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Legionnaires’ Found in Hong Kong Chief Executive’s Office

Hong Kong Chief Executive Donald Tsang
Hong Kong Chief Executive Donald Tsang. Photographer: Stephen Yang/Bloomberg

Jan. 3 (Bloomberg) -- Water samples taken from the office of Donald Tsang, Hong Kong’s chief executive, were found to contain bacteria that cause Legionnaires’ disease, after the city’s education secretary contracted the illness.

Legionella bacteria were discovered in water samples taken from nine different locations in the city’s new government building, Thomas Tsang, the city’s Centre for Health Protection controller, said in a statement yesterday. Secretary for Education Michael Suen told reporters Dec. 29 that he had recovered from the disease.

“If one part of the water system is infected, water pipes and taps in other parts of the same building are very likely to be infected,” said Yuen Kwok-yung, chairman of infectious diseases at the University of Hong Kong’s department of microbiology. “What they need to do is to disinfect the system.”

There were 17 cases of the disease in Hong Kong in 2011, according to the Centre for Health Protection, citing Department of Health figures. Between 8,000 and 18,000 people are hospitalized with Legionnaires’ disease in the U.S. each year, according to the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The findings don’t mean there is an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease, and the chief executive and other staff can work as normal, Thomas Tsang said. Samples from the building’s water tank tested negative for legionella bacteria, Tsang said Dec. 29.

Form of Pneumonia

Construction of the new government headquarters began in 2008 and was completed in August. About 3,000 civil servants from the offices of the chief executive, financial secretary and 12 policy bureaus were expected to move in by the end of 2011, according to a government report.

Legionnaires’ disease is a severe form of pneumonia, according to information on the website of the Mayo Clinic, a U.S. nonprofit health organization that operates hospitals in Arizona, Minnesota and Florida. The disease is spread through inhalation of the bacteria, and not person-to-person contact, according to the website. Legionella bacteria can multiply in indoor water systems, such as hot tubs, air conditioners and mist sprayers in grocery-store produce departments.

The bacteria usually attack those with existing illnesses such as chronic lung disease, Yuen said. The process of superheating, whereby a liquid is heated to a temperature above its boiling point without boiling it, can be used to kill any legionella bacteria in the water, he said.

Chills And Confusion

Symptoms of Legionnaires’ disease include chills, confusion and gastrointestinal indications, according to the Mayo Clinic website. Most cases of the illness can be treated with antibiotics, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The Centre for Health Protection said it will continue work to disinfect the building today and will conduct more tests.

Poultry imports from an area in the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen, where a man died from the deadly H5N1 bird flu virus on Dec. 31, remained banned in Hong Kong today. The government slaughtered 19,451 birds on Dec. 21, including more than 15,000 chickens, after the virus was found in a chicken carcass at a local wholesale market.

To contact the reporters on this story: Natasha Khan in Hong Kong at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Peter Hirschberg at

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