A Cambodian boy suspected of having severe acute respiratory syndrome is being held for observation in Calmette Hospital’s isolation ward after passing undetected through Phnom Penh International Airport, health officials said Thursday.
A 16-year-old Cambodian who had been studying in China’s Guangdong province for three months was admitted to Calmette at 3 pm Wednesday, a Ministry of Health statement said. He fell ill with a fever and respiratory symptoms two days before leaving China on May 16. Guangdong has been hard-hit by the SARS epidemic.
The boy currently has no fever but is suffering from respiratory distress and diarrhea, said Dr Jean Baptiste Dufourcq, head of Calmette’s emergency room and intensive care unit.
Emergency room doctors Thursday morning were taking turns pulling on knee-length rubber boots, full-body suits and protective masks to observe the patient, who was isolated in a small room located across the hall from the emergency room.
Doctors from a private clinic in Phnom Penh alerted the Ministry of Health’s Communicable Disease Control Department about the boy five days after he arrived from China, said World Health Organization consultant Dr Vong Sirenda.
Airport officials said they did not realize that a suspected SARS patient had passed through the facility.
“We didn’t have any SARS cases in the last 10 days,” said Gilles Maximy, Phnom Penh International Airport’s operations manager. Maximy said he was unaware of the case.
Maximy said he was surprised that he was not contacted about it, since he was called two hours after Cambodia’s last SARS suspect was detected. The last suspect, a British woman, was later determined not to have SARS.
“If there is any kind of suspected case of SARS disease, I should have been aware of that,” Maximy said.
The Ministry of Health’s Dr Ly Sovann said the boy may not have been detected by airport health officials because he did not have a fever upon arrival.
Vong Sirenda said health officials would try to trace the boy’s flight number and determine where he was sitting on the plane but said efforts were “conservative” at this time.
“As he doesn’t meet all the case definitions, we’re not panicking,” Vong Sirenda said, noting that the fever the boy allegedly had in China already had subsided.
The boy’s domestic and international travel history are being traced by health officials, who are cooperating with WHO to determine whether the boy had contact with SARS carriers in China, Vong Sirenda said.
Ly Sovann said the government at this time would do no more than suggest the boy’s family be quarantined at home.
The patient currently is undergoing a series of tests for diseases, including malaria and tuberculosis, and will be held at least another week for observation, Dufourcq said. The patient currently is suffering from diarrhea and a cough but no fever.
WHO’s infection control officer, Dr Frances Daily, said if the patient truly has SARS, his stable condition may be attributed to his youth, since the disease is less common and severe in children.
(Additional reporting by Kuch Naren)