China’s last 12 patients suffering from the respiratory disease SARS no longer have symptoms, health officials announced, signalling the end to an outbreak that created panic, baffled scientists and left hundreds dead.
China’s last 12 patients suffering from the respiratory disease SARS no longer have symptoms, health officials announced, signalling the end to an outbreak that created panic, baffled scientists and left hundreds dead.”The 12, who had been confirmed as having SARS, have no more symptoms and will not infect anyone in close contact with them,” said Beijing Municipal Bureau of Health deputy director Liang Wannian told state media. However, they remain in hospitals in Beijing “due to complications caused by SARS”.The World Health Organisation, a United Nations body, welcomed the development but warned the disease could easily resurface.”We are obviously very pleased but I think the Chinese government, Beijing authorities and the WHO agree that we must maintain vigilance,” said Dr Alan Schnur, head of the world body’s communicable diseases office in Beijing.”This disease could easily come back again and it is essential that the infrastructure is in place if it does,” Schnur said. “This has closed one chapter but it is not necessarily over yet.” SARS, or Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, spread worldwide after first appearing in southern China’s Guangdong province in November 2002. It was carried to Hong Kong by a badly infected mainland Chinese doctor, sparking a global outbreak that struck down more than 8,000 people and left more than 800 dead in 32 countries.Some 349 of the fatalities and 5,327 of the infections were in China, with Beijing hardest hit. At its peak, China was lumbered with six WHO travel advisories, and Beijing resembled a ghost town with the population panic-buying essential goods and holing up at home.Images of thousands of frightened residents wearing surgical masks in the streets became some of the most enduring symbols of the crisis.It had a devastating effect on business, particularly tourism, with the fallout reflected in China’s booming economic growth slowing to 6.7% in the second quarter of the year, from 9.9% in the first three months.The announcement that the last patients were free from the pneumonia-like bug coincided with President Hu Jintao addressing a national conference on SARS prevention and control. In his speech he attributed “the major victory” over the disease to “the staunch leadership” of the Communist Party which “further indicated the eminent superiority of socialism”, the Xinhua news agency reported.China’s government initially covered up the epidemic, gagging the national press, but finally admitted a problem in April 2003, sacking the health minister and Beijing’s mayor.”At this moment, we want to extend our condolences to the martyrs who laid down their lives in this battle as well as those compatriots who have been deprived of their lives by SARS,” said Hu. He acknowledged that numerous problems had been exposed by the outbreak, such as “the backwardness of public health facilities and flaws in the public health system”. Premier Wen Jiabao told the meeting that over the next three years China would establish a disease control system and a mechanism to handle public emergencies.China was officially declared SARS free by the WHO on 24 June this year, and the global health body followed this up with an announcement earlier this month that the epidemic had been contained worldwide.However, no cure has been found and medical experts are still struggling to find a suitable diagnostic test to detect the virus and identify it from other winter ailments like the common cold and flu which have some similar symptoms.”We still have a way to go to have a fully adequate diagnostic test,” said Schnur. “But I think the whole world has learnt from this outbreak. I think we’ll be better prepared if SARS does come back.” (Source: ABC, Martin Parry, 30 July 2003)