Outbreak of gastroenteritis investigated at Pamela Youde Nethersole Eastern Hospital

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Pamela Youde Nethersole Eastern Hospital

28th May 2024 – (Hong Kong) The Centre for Health Protection (CHP) under the Department of Health (DH) has released the latest findings of its investigation into an outbreak of acute gastroenteritis (AGE) at Pamela Youde Nethersole Eastern Hospital (PYNEH). In light of the situation, the CHP has reiterated the importance of personal and environmental hygiene to the public and institutional management to prevent the spread of AGE.

The probe was initiated after the Hospital Authority issued a press release on 22nd May, reporting incidents of gastroenteritis symptoms among PYNEH staff who had consumed food from the hospital’s canteens. Following prompt action, the CHP conducted an investigation and declared on 23rd May that the outbreak likely resulted from environmental contamination or person-to-person transmission, involving an infection by the norovirus.

The CHP’s epidemiological investigation has since identified a total of 77 affected staff members, comprising 36 males and 41 females aged 20 to 65. Symptoms such as abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, and fever were reported among these individuals from 17th to 23rd May. Out of the affected cases, 47 sought medical attention, with one requiring hospitalization. However, the hospitalized patient has since been discharged after receiving treatment, and all patients are presently in stable condition.

Stool testing was conducted for 27 cases, of which 23 stool samples tested positive for norovirus. The CHP’s investigation highlighted that more than half of the affected staff members worked in the East Block of PYNEH, and multiple individuals reported witnessing prior vomiting incidents or having contact with individuals affected by AGE within the hospital. Based on these findings, the CHP concluded that the outbreak of AGE was caused by norovirus, and it cannot be ruled out that person-to-person transmission or transmission through environmental contamination played a role.

Following the CHP’s instructions, PYNEH promptly carried out thorough disinfection of affected areas, particularly those visited by the affected individuals. Environment swabs taken by the CHP from common areas in the East Block of PYNEH on 23rd May tested negative for norovirus. Notably, no new cases have been reported since the disinfection measures were implemented.

A CHP spokesperson emphasised the highly contagious nature of norovirus, stating that even a small number of virus particles can lead to infection. The likelihood of an outbreak increases in confined areas with inadequate ventilation during vomiting incidents. Proper and timely management of such incidents, including thorough environmental disinfection, is crucial, particularly in healthcare facilities, institutions, and schools. It is important to note that alcohol-based hand sanitisers should not replace hand hygiene practices with soap and water, as alcohol is not effective against certain viruses, including norovirus, which are commonly associated with gastroenteritis. The public is advised to follow preventive measures to minimise the risk of gastroenteritis transmission.