World Health Organization teams gathered in the Chinese capital on Wednesday to launch their campaign to halt a chain of deadly SARS infections days before hundreds of millions of people set off for the May Day holiday.
World Health Organization teams gathered in the Chinese capital on Wednesday to launch their campaign to halt a chain of deadly SARS infections days before hundreds of millions of people set off for the May Day holiday. China has isolated more than 700 people since a laboratory leak led to the first death from SARS after last year’s outbreak killed nearly 800 people worldwide, winning WHO approval. It has reported two diagnosed and six suspected SARS cases in the eastern province of Anhui and the capital, Beijing. “The group is starting to assemble in Beijing,” WHO spokesman Bob Dietz said. “They are going to be broken up into teams and they have Ministry of Health counterparts.” WHO teams, including experts in epidemiology, virology, infection control and laboratory bio-safety, would head within a day or two to Anhui and the lab where the transmission chain is suspected to have started, Dietz said. Another would do follow-up contact tracing, to see if any more people had contact with those infected, and a fourth team would investigate China’s infection control efforts and how the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome cases went unnoticed for a period of time, he said. Nearly 150 people had been confirmed to have contacted a SARS patient in Anhui and they were all in normal condition, the Anhui provincial health department said. “The epidemic investigation for SARS conducted by the medical authorities in Beijing was quick, accurate and efficiently saved time for the whole campaign to prevent and control the disease,” Xinhua news agency quoted Liang Wannian, deputy director of the Beijing Health Bureau, as saying on Tuesday. He “urged citizens to trust the government’s capacity on SARS control and promised the coming Labour Day holiday would be a happy one.” Authorities have stepped up surveillance against the disease, which is highly contagious, before the week-long May Day holiday. Dietz repeated that the WHO did not see the mini-outbreak as a significant public health threat, and said once China recognized it was dealing with SARS it “swung into action.” All the latest cases were traceable to a 26-year-old woman who worked at a lab in the National Institute of Virology in Beijing, and the WHO was working on the assumption the virus was let loose there.”This is a working assumption, it’s not a proven one,” Dietz said. “Until we finish the investigation, we’re not really sure of the source of this virus. “If it’s not the lab then we are actually, maybe, in an even worse situation, because we don’t know how these people are becoming infected.” SARS, which first appeared in southern China in late 2002 and then spread worldwide, had a serious economic impact across Asia last year with tourism and investment badly hurt. The risk of a SARS crisis hitting the capital again was “very small,” the head of virus control under the Beijing center for disease control, Wu Jiang, told reporters on Tuesday. (Source: Reuters Health News, April 2004)