Ebola Case Controversy Grows As South African Staff Member Receives Hospital Treatment

A doctor at King Edward VII Hospital in London is treating a member of staff from a South African basketball team after discovering what experts at a Hong Kong university said were a pair of “vaguely similar” cases of Variant Influenza A (VIA) infected, researchers said Tuesday.

In a statement released by the Hong Kong Centre for Health Protection, the Hong Kong College of Medicine noted “the two patients have both tested positive for the highly pathogenic A(H3N2) strain of the A(H3N2). However, their studies have shown that the two patients do not share the same clinical features and different treatment regimes.”

The statement added: “The investigation continues to determine the relationship between the two patients. It is important to emphasize that no other related cases have been detected in South Africa.”

Hospital officials said the South African staff member had been in London since Feb. 21 treating a former member of the U.S. military team who recently died. They said the staff member had returned to South Africa on April 11 with high temperatures and went to the hospital on April 17, when he was admitted.

The South African Health Ministry said they were not yet able to verify that the South African employee was the victim of the two cases. Officials said in a statement the worker had come to Britain for a holiday, with other visitors. It also said the worker was tested in South Africa and didn’t have any underlying medical condition. It said more testing was being conducted and had no details about the identity of the worker.

Health officials in Hong Kong were reported to be conducting tests on the two patients to determine whether one case was related to the other. But hospital staff at the Hong Kong Hospital, who had treated the first patient, said the hospital hadn’t learned of the possible connection between the case until Monday.

The National Institute for Communicable Diseases said the two patients were in isolation and “are now recovering.”

Ebola outbreaks in Africa routinely involve the VIA virus, which doesn’t have an established genetic identity.

VIA strains are not associated with diseases other than flu and are often spread by close contact with a sick person or by animal carriers, although such cases are rare. No-one knows for sure how it enters humans or how much people can get infected from it without contracting the virus themselves.

It is not known if the two patients were infected after contact with the same person.

Doctors in Hong Kong said they have been warned they are likely to get confirmation of any links between the two patients as soon as they have samples tested.

There have been a handful of cases reported in South Africa and more than 25 worldwide since the flu vaccine became available in 2011, according to the South African CDC.

Flu vaccines are normally given to young children, pregnant women and the elderly, but health authorities say they can be given to adults regardless of age for the low risk of influenza.

Following World Health Organization advice, patients in the U.K. and South Africa have also been given antiviral drugs to control the spread of the disease.

Patients who are confirmed as having the A(H3N2) virus have been offered antiviral drugs, a health official in South Africa said.

Crop-spraying teams have also been mobilized to contain the outbreak. Farmers at some farms are on alert as the North Hants local authority has confirmed two cases.

Meanwhile, authorities are still investigating the cause of the fourth case which was announced Tuesday afternoon.

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