A World Health Organization expert arrived in Beijing on Monday to help China try to find out whether the country’s first suspected SARS patient in half a year has the killer virus.
A World Health Organization expert arrived in Beijing on Monday to help China try to find out whether the country’s first suspected SARS patient in half a year has the killer virus. Another joint team of WHO and health ministry experts was to head to the southern province of Guangdong within 24 to 48 hours to aid testing on the 32-year-old television producer, whose temperature was normal and who appeared to be doing well, Beijing-based WHO spokesman Roy Wadia said. But a Ministry of Health official said it would take “several days” to arrive at a diagnosis. “Confirmation will depend on clinical indicators,” he told Reuters. CCTV, quoting experts, said a diagnosis would take five to seven days. None of the 42 people quarantined for having been in contact with the patient has developed a fever or shown other symptoms of the deadly virus, officials said. “Up till now, we haven’t found any new suspected SARS patients, including those who had close contact with the suspected SARS patient,” one Guangdong health official said. SARS emerged in Guangdong in late 2002 before it was spread by travelers to nearly 30 countries where some 8,000 infections were logged, spurring mass panic and forcing people to cancel trips and stay away from crowded spots. The news of China’s suspected SARS case comes just weeks before the Chinese Lunar New Year holiday when millions of people in China and across East and Southeast Asia travel to visit relatives. Despite a battery of tests, Chinese doctors and laboratory workers have yet to make a final diagnosis on the man, who was first diagnosed with pneumonia in his right lower lung on December 16. “The tests have been so confusing,” said Wadia. “There’s been some positives, some negatives and the positives come from a sort of test group that has a high number of false positives. “That’s why it’s important that we get the samples tested independently as well, because the more testing that is done by different sources, the less the statistical margin of error.” But it was not yet clear when the WHO specialist would travel to Guangdong, Wadia said. The expert had been invited by the Chinese government to sift through data collected so far on the suspected patient and observe ongoing testing. LIFE “NORMAL” The official Xinhua News Agency said life in the provincial capital Guangzhou, where the suspected SARS patient had been hospitalized, was normal. In Beijing, where traffic-choked streets appeared eerily deserted for several weeks in spring, the going was slow during a typical Monday morning rush hour. No one was seen wearing protective masks, de rigeur when the SARS spread was at its peak. Thirty-two health workers who had been in contact with the suspected patient were among those quarantined, the official China Daily newspaper said. “That they’ve identified the contacts within a relatively short time is pretty encouraging because it shows that the system that was put into place does seem to be working,” said Wadia. Health experts around the world have on the lookout for a resurgence of SARS since the start of winter in the northern hemisphere. China, which came under fire internationally for covering up the scale of contagion early this year, has threatened to punish health workers severely for failing to report SARS cases. This time around, Wadia said the WHO was “absolutely satisfied” with the government’s willingness to share information. The WHO was meeting daily with the Ministry of Health and had received updates as the investigation progressed. But the health ministry had yet to agree to a WHO request for samples from the suspect to be tested in a laboratory outside China, he added.(Source: Reuters News: December 2003)