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China still a safe place to travel, says WHO
2004-01-06 00:00


The World Health Organization (WHO)said Monday that China is still a safe place to travel even though the suspected case of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) in Guangdong was finally confirmed as diagnosed one.

"It is perfectly safe for members of the public to travel to Guangdong Province," WHO representative in China Henk Bekedam said at a press conference Monday evening.

"One SARS case in China is not an immediate public-health threat and there was no evidence of a spread of infection from the SARS patient to date," Bekedam said.

China's Ministry of Health confirmed Monday the first diagnosed SARS case in a report after the samples from the patient was jointly examined by the laboratories under the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Guangdong CDC and the results reviewed and confirmed by two WHO reference laboratories abroad.

The patient, a 32-year-old TV producer, was "in a stable condition with no abnormal symptoms" after continuous medical treatment, the ministry.

The ministry said prompt epidemiological investigations and preventative measures had been taken by the Guangdong health authorities after the patient was diagnosed as a suspected SARS case on Dec. 27. The 42 close contact and 39 people with loose contact of the patient were quarantined under medical observation,of whom 25 close contact and all with loose contact were removed from isolation so far.

No other suspected or confirmed SARS cases have been reported in China, including Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macao, said Mao Qun'an, spokesman of the ministry.

Although rumors of a second suspected case, a female patient in her early 20s, have been circulating, Guangzhou authorities denied it.

Wang Ming, deputy director of the Guangzhou Municipal CDC, said there was a patient with fever and pneumonia symptoms. She has had normal temperatures for a few days and none of those who had contact with her have had fever or similar symptoms.

"Local health authorities in Guangdong Province, together with the Ministry of Health and the Chinese CDC, have treated the SARS case very well," said Bekedam.

There was no evidence of a spread of infection from the SARS patient to date in China and all the 81 identified contacts were reported to be well. "It is perfectly safe for members of the public to travel to Guangdong Province".

"The healthcare agencies in Guangdong utilized the disease surveillance system established following the outbreak in the earlier half of 2003, including tracing, isolation and medical observation of contact," he said.

The health authorities in Guangdong and Hong Kong have worked together to implement safety measures in the area, in terms of travel, temperature checking and other steps in the wake of the SARS case in Guangzhou, he added.

As for the slaughter of civet cats which were suspected to carry the SARS virus, Bekedam said the WHO welcomes the decision by the Chinese authorities to try and minimize contact between humans and the animals thought to be carrying the SARS virus.

He repeatedly called for more research to identify which animals are capable of carrying and supporting the SARS virus and under which circumstances the virus to transmit from animals to humans.

"Proper process should also be stressed to ensure that slaughter won't add risk to the spread of the virus," he said.

Guangdong announced a ban on the breeding and sale of civet cats on Monday, and all civet cats being raised and sold in Guangdong would be destroyed, wildlife markets closed and the entry of civet cats from elsewhere in the country banned to prevent any possible spread of SARS.

It is estimated that some 10,000 such animals will be killed.

Experts from the University of Hong Kong had found large quantities of the SARS-like coronavirus from civet cats and other wildlife collected from the markets in Guangzhou and Shenzhen cities.

Further research found that the S-gene sequence of the coronavirus from civet cats and that of the recently-detected SARSsuspect in Guangdong were "highly homological" and were from "the same phylogenetic tree."



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