WHO scours flat for SARS clues

Doctors from the World Health Organisation scoured on Sunday an apartment building where China's only confirmed new SARS case lived, looking for clues how the 32-year-old man caught the virus.

    Visitors wearing masks as they arrive at a Hong Kong hospital

    The WHO was also no closer to determining whether a suspected SARS case, a waitress who worked in an exotic food restaurant in southern China, actually had the mysterious disease. 

    "We're at the apartment building talking to the building management, looking at the ventilation systems, the sewage
    systems and things like that," WHO spokesman Roy Wadia told Reuters by telephone from the southern city of Guangzhou.

    Hong Kong's Cable TV network quoted an official at Guangdong's health department saying a patient with symptoms of pneumonia had been admitted to the No 8 People's Hospital in Guangzhou. 

    "We're at the apartment building talking to the building management, looking at the ventilation systems, the sewage
    systems and things like that"

    Roy Wadi,
    WHO spokesman

    Some SARS tests on the patient were positive, but authorities were consulting other experts. The case was not yet classified as a suspected SARS case, the network said.

    Wadia declined to comment on the case pending official notification from the Health Ministry. 

    China confirmed last Monday its first case of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome since a world outbreak was declared over in July. The patient, a Guangzhou television producer,
    recovered and left hospital on Thursday. 

    Health officials said a gene sample from the man matched that of a coronavirus found in civets, a weasel-like animal eaten as a delicacy in southern China and sold in crowded markets. 

    Civets suspected

    Experts suspect the virus jumped from civets to humans. The
    television producer denied any contact with civets, but authorities ordered a cull of the animals in the hope of averting a repeat of last year's SARS outbreak, which swept out of southern China and infected about 8000 people around the world, killing about 800 of them.

    The WHO investigators on Saturday searched the seafood and game restaurant in an old quarter of Guangzhou city where the woman suspected of having SARS worked as a waitress. The restaurant had civets on its menu. 

    The WHO also recommended health officials send samples from the woman to laboratories in Beijing and abroad for more
    tests. 

     "We have no further information on the second case," Wadia said about the 20-year-old waitress, who has been in stable condition without fever for more than a week. 

    About 100 people who had contact with the woman have been free of fever and other SARS symptoms, the official Xinhua news agency said. 

    Final diagnosis

    A Guangdong provincial panel would make the final diagnosis of the woman and would not take as long as the man's diagnosis, which dragged on for more than a week after he was first
    declared a suspect, state media said. 

    SARS is believed to spread by droplets in coughs and sneezes. It has no specific cure, but doctors worldwide treat it
    with ribavirin, an anti-viral drug, and steroids. 

    To combat the spread of the disease, which killed nearly 350 people in China last year, the Beijing Youth Daily said the State Food and Drug Administration had approved four new medicines for prevention and treatment. 

    It gave no details, but said three other SARS medicines had
    entered the clinical testing stage.

    SOURCE: Reuters


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