Dr. Chen Wu
Hong Kong Central Hospital
Dr. Chen Wu grew up the son of a successful merchant in Shandong province. He earned his MD from the Beijing School of Medicine in 1989. He began his medical career in a rural area of Guangxi province before moving to Hong Kong Central Hospital in 1994.
. When did cases of atypical flu first emerge at your hospital?
We had heard media reports of an unusual and particularly potent pneumonia in Guangzhou, a city about 180 kilometers away, for a few weeks before we saw any cases in Hong Kong. In anticipation of the flu spreading to Hong Kong, public health authorities established a citywide reporting system covering patients admitted to hospital with any sort of flu symptoms on February 14th. As a "Special Administrative Region", our health authorities have more liberty to make such announcements than prevails in the rest of China. Cases began emerging in Hong Kong soon after, but the reporting system and other measures helped us isolate and contain the outbreak to some degree. But even with the precautionary measures, almost 300 people died in Hong Kong from the SARS epidemic.
. What type of symptoms are associated with SARS?
The atypical pneumonia is hard to diagnose because its early symptoms - low-grade fever accompanied after a few days by dry cough and trouble breathing--are the same as normal pneumonia’s symptoms. Only a week later do its distinctive symptoms - fever above 100.4 degrees (F), headache and overall body ache, and more severe trouble breathing set in. Infected persons who will recover start feeling better soon afterward; the 15% of infected who die (mainly those over 60) do so about 4-5 weeks later.
. How does the virus spread?
We know now that the virus is extremely contagious. If you come into close contact with an infected individual, there is a significant probability you will contract the virus. Person-to-person contact is most likely from direct contact, but the virus can also survive for up to 16 days on common surfaces like doorknobs and bedding. The highly contagious nature of the disease let it spread through Guangdong and outside China, even all the way to Toronto, with great speed.
. How would you characterize the Hong Kong health community’s relationship with the WHO during the outbreak?
I would say it was a very cooperative relationship. About a week after we implemented the reporting system, we uncovered 2 cases of avian flu, a disease already a concern to the WHO. In response to the reports of avian flu, the WHO activated its Global Pandemic Preparedness Plan to warn governments of cross-border spread and send assistance to help contain and neutralize the outbreak.