Saturday, January 17, 2004

China Confirms Two More SARS Cases; WHO reserves judgment
China confirmed two more cases of SARS on Saturday, the country’s most hectic travel weekend before the start of the Lunar New Year. The World Health Organization urged further testing to ensure the diagnosis was correct.

The government of the southern province Guangdong, where the disease emerged last year, said in a statement that SARS experts confirmed the two new diagnoses.

“They concluded that the clinical symptoms and results of laboratory tests and X-ray tests were in line with a diagnosis standard recommended by the Health Ministry for SARS,” the statement said.

But Roy Wadia, a WHO spokesman in Beijing, said the agency thought the confirmations were premature.

In the case of the businessman, blood samples were taken from him three days apart instead of at least seven — a timeframe that would be long enough to measure a significant rise in antibodies for any disease, Wadia said.

“At this time it’s difficult to tell what their antibodies are responding to. It could be the SARS coronavirus or a type of common cold virus,” he said. “We encourage a little more testing to be done to be 100 percent sure of the outcome.”

Saturday’s announcement came during China’s busiest travel season, when millions crisscross the country in planes, trains and buses to return to their hometowns for the Lunar New Year, the country’s biggest holiday, which starts Jan. 22.

A spokesman for the Health Ministry urged continued diligence in preventative work by health authorities at all levels, especially during this period.

“No effort should be spared in guarding against the spread of the disease,” the spokesman said in a statement. “We mustn’t be caught off guard or relax our vigilance.”

The first case of severe acute respiratory syndrome came to light in November 2002; the disease killed 774 people and sickened more than 8,000 globally before subsiding in June.
What a difference a year makes. China was hard-pressed to acknowledge the first SARS cases and now, the WHO is cautioning the Chinese government about premature admissions -even during a heavy travel season. This evolution is encouraging.


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