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HK health authorities confirm leprosy diagnosis of Filipino DH

21 June 2024


The Filipina was diagnosed at Tseung Kwan O Hospital where she remains in isolation

Hong Kong's  Health Department has confirmed in a statement issued earlier today that it is investigating a leprosy case which earlier news reports said involved a Filipina domestic helper who was diagnosed with the infectious disease in May, shortly after arriving from the Philippines.

At the same time, the Centre for Health Protection by the DH reiterated that the transmission risk of leprosy is low in Hong Kong and the disease does not spread easily among people.

Senior welfare officer Marilou Sumalinog of the Overseas Workers Welfare Administration told The SUN that the case has already been reported to them, but the hospital where she is admitted has yet to allow them to visit the patient.


“We are still awaiting clearance so that she can be repatriated the soonest,” said Sumalinog in a chat message.

But before that, she said OWWA will have to discuss with her doctors the possible treatment protocol for the patient once she is discharged.

According to the CHP statement, the 30-year-old patient who had good past health, developed a skin rash on her arm in early May, and when she attended Tseung Kwan O for medical treatment on May 23 she was admitted for treatment. Laboratory tests on her skin specimen showed she has leprosy.


Some news reports said her positive diagnosis for leprosy was released on June 14. They also said the patient had other symptoms, like swelling of the limbs, that she ended up being admitted to hospital.

CHP said she remains in stable condition at the hospital.

The CHP said initial inquiries revealed that the patient stayed in the Philippines during the incubation period before arriving in Hong Kong in late April.

Her home contacts in Hong Kong are said to be currently asymptomatic but are under medical surveillance.

CHP’s investigations are ongoing.

Leprosy, also known as Hansen’s disease, is a chronic infectious disease caused by a type of bacteria, Mycobacterium leprae, which can be transmitted by nasal droplets or by close skin contact.

But the CHP stressed that the disease will only be transmitted through prolonged and close contact over months to years with an untreated leprosy patient. Patients stop transmitting the disease as soon as they start treatment.

The disease does not spread easily between people through casual contact with a leprosy patient, such as shaking hands or hugging, sharing meals or sitting next to each other. Also, the disease does not spread through sex or pass to the fetus during pregnancy.

The CHP’s emphasis on leprosy not being easily transmitted appeared to be in response to news that the Filipina’s employer has been experiencing serious anxiety after learning about her helper’s ailment.

Her concerns have reportedly caused a stir about the safety protocols for hiring FDHs and compensation by the employment agency that brokered the employment.

Her employer, referred to in reports as Mrs Lee, was said to be distressed because the helper had been living in close proximity with her family, including a five-year-old child.

While her family members have all been cleared of the disease, they remain afraid as leprosy is known for its long incubation period, which can last up to 20 years.

Despite CHP’s assurance about the low risk of transmitting the disease, the management of the residential complex where the Lees resided has posted notices, advising residents to seek medical attention if they feel unwell or develop symptoms.

In the meantime, Mrs Lee has reportedly been in dispute with the employment agency that placed the helper with them, especially in regards to recovering the placement fee that she paid, as well as the medical expenses she incurred.

However, the agency has refused to return the full service fee and offered only a partial refund. It also proposed to educate Mrs Lee on the low risk of leprosy transmission, and provide disinfection services for her home.

The agency also showed a medical clearance for the helper, which was issued by a doctor prior to her deployment in Hong Kong. The clearance covers tests for other infectious diseases like Hepatitis B and HIV, but not for leprosy.

But while leprosy is a notifiable infectious disease in Hong Kong the number of case reported has decline significantly from more than 100 in the early 1970s to between 20 and 30 in the early 1990s. Between 2014 and 2023, the number of reported cases ranged between one to nine cases annually.

Worldwide, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), leprosy occurs in more than 120 countries, with more than 200,000 new cases reported every year.

In countries like Brazil, India and Indonesia, more than 10,000 new cases each year from 2018 to 2022, while some countries like the Philippines, Nepal, Myanmar, etc reported 1,000 to 10,000 new cases each year during the same period.

For more information about leprosy, please visit the CHP webpage featuring leprosy at

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