Boy in Hong Kong hospital tests negative for SARS-like illness

Hong Kong commuters during the 2003 SARS outbreak

Story highlights

  • Boy tests negative for SARS-like virus that has infected two in Middle East
  • Four-year-old arrived in Hong Kong from Saudi Arabia with his father last week
  • Hong Kong was at epicenter of 2003 SARS outbreak

A four-year-old boy in a Hong Kong isolation ward has tested negative for a SARS-like virus that infected two people in the Middle East, the government said on Monday.

The illness was instead confirmed to be an influenza infection, Hong Kong's Centre for Health Protection said and not a case of novel coronavirus -- which belongs to the same family of viruses that caused the 2003 outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS).

The newly discovered virus killed a 60-year-old Saudi national in June and has left a 49-year-old man from Qatar who had traveled to Saudi Arabia in a critical condition in a London hospital.

The boy arrived in Hong Kong from Jeddah, Saudi Arabia with his father on October 3 and was admitted to the emergency room of Ruttonjee Hospital on Sunday with a fever, cough and vomiting. He was later put in isolation at a different hospital.

New SARS-like illness poses medical mystery

Hong Kong, which was at the epicenter of the 2003 SARS outbreak, takes disease control very seriously and put health workers on alert after the World Health Organization first reported the virus's discovery on September 23.

The outbreak of SARS, which killed 299 people in Hong Kong and 800 worldwide, also dealt a severe economic blow, emptying the normally bustling city's shopping malls, restaurants and schools.

The WHO said that while from the same family, the new virus is distinct from SARS.

It said it was investigating the possibility of transmission from animals but, unlike SARS, there is no evidence yet that the novel coronavirus has been transmitted from person to person.

A Hong Kong University researcher, Yuen Kwok-yung said last month that the new virus is closely related to two bat viruses found a few years ago in Hong Kong, according to the South China Morning Post.

SARS was though to have jumped species from the civet, a member of the cat family.