Hong Kong government offices hit by deadly bug

HONG KONG - Massive disinfection work was carried out at Hong Kong's new government headquarters Tuesday, after the bacteria of a potentially fatal disease was found and one minister was hospitalised.

Health authorities said nine water samples taken from various sites in the buildings, including the chief executive's office, tested positive for Legionella, which causes Legionnaires' disease, a severe form of pneumonia.

The checks at the HK$5.5 billion (S$920 million) complex in Central, which opened last year, were prompted after the city's Education Minister Michael Suen came down with the potentially fatal illness and was in hospital for nearly two weeks.

Suen was discharged last week but the level of Legionella bacteria found in a tap inside his office washroom was about 14 times more than what is considered safe by international standards.

Health authorities said Tuesday that checks also found the bacteria in other parts of the building, including the washrooms of several other ministers, the canteen and a bakery.

Legionella bacteria thrives in warm water, and can be found in water tanks, cooling towers, whirlpools and spas. It may be spread through exposure to contaminated water droplets, but it cannot be spread from person to person.

Despite the findings, the government downplayed fears and said more than 3,000 government staff can work as normal.

"Finding Legionella bacteria in the water is not equal to an outbreak of the Legionella disease," the government's centre for health protection controller Thomas Tsang said, according to The Standard newspaper.

Authorities said disinfection work and installation of water filters will contain the bacteria, and that water samples will be tested again after the work.

Legionnaires' disease was named after an outbreak occurring in a Legion Convention in the United States in 1976.