Mystery Illness Continues Spread, Jump in Cases in China
Chinese officials more than doubled the count of those who had been infected with a mysterious virus from 305 to 792. A Chinese government spokeswoman also said 31 people had died from the illness in the southern Guangdong province by the end of February, up from the five deaths that were previously reported.
The government also reported that three other people died from the disease in Beijing this month.
World health officials have said the symptoms of the Chinese illness are consistent with those for severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, which has sickened more than 500 people outside of China. SARS spread first in Hong Kong, Singapore and Vietnam and later moved to other countries including the United States, Canada Britain, France, Australia, and Japan.
“Everything we’ve seen so far indicates it’s the same disease,” said Dr. Meirion Evans, a member of a WHO team that has studied the cases in southern China, but not yet those in Beijing.
“We’re getting a more complete picture,” Evans told the Associated Press Wednesday. “It’s certainly been one of the objectives of the mission to clarify whether the outbreak in China was the same disease as what’s been seen outside of China.
Meanwhile Singapore, which has quarantined more than 700 people with flu-like symptoms and reported its first two deaths from SARS on Wednesday, said all schools would be closed until April 6.
Singapore’s closure of schools, from day care centers to junior colleges, will keep a half-million students temporarily out of class.
“On purely medical grounds, there are currently no strong reasons for closing all schools,” Singapore’s education minister Teo Chee Hean said Wednesday.
“However, principals and general practitioners have reported that parents continue to be concerned about the risk to their children in schools,” he continued.
In Hong Kong, where numerous citizens are going about town in masks, there are media reports that about 60 schools have been closed as a precaution.
The Hong Kong Education and Manpower Bureau confirmed only five closures — after eight students were infected by sick relatives or health care workers — but officials acknowledged some schools were closing on their own initiative.
There was also a warning from a senior health official to Hong Kong’s seven million residents that the disease was spreading.
“We can see the trend of the figure climbing. People from all walks of life have been infected,” Deputy Director of Health Leung Pak-yin said in a news conference Wednesday. “If you are on the plane and an infected person is sitting either behind or in front of you and he coughs, you can get infected.”
The WHO reported Wednesday that ten people had died of SARS in Hong Kong and 316 had become infected with the disease since the outbreak began in February.
Health authorities say SARS appears to spread from close contact, primarily through nasal fluids by coughing or sneezing. Many of those infected were caring for someone who had the disease.
As of Monday, 39 suspect cases of SARS were under investigation in the United States. Most of those suspected cases are believed to have acquired it from recent travel to Asia. The others were health workers or family members who had close contact with those suffering from the illness, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Julie Gerberding told reports Monday.
As the number of cases spreads, researchers around the globe are continuing their efforts to identify the cause of the mysterious disease.
CDC officials said Monday that tests revealed traces of a form of microbe known as a coronavirus in the tissue of people infected with SARS. Coronavirus is the microbe that causes the common cold, but it can also cause respiratory illnesses that sometimes lead to bronchitis and pneumonia.