TOPICS > Health

SARS in Beijing Worse Than Chinese Officials Reported

BY Admin  April 16, 2003 at 3:28 PM EDT

World Health Organization investigators said that China has unreported cases of the SARS virus in military hospitals in Beijing.

“There indeed have been cases of SARS, there is no doubt about that, that have not been reported officially, in that the military seems to have its own reporting system that doesn’t link in presently to the municipal one,” WHO team member Dr. Wolfgang Preiser said.

Chinese officials have insisted that cases in military hospitals were included in their tally of patients with SARS, although almost all information on the military is a state secret.

In Beijing, a WHO team visited the Nos. 301 and 309 military hospitals Tuesday and later said they saw SARS patients and received data on new cases. But they said officials told the WHO not to release details about the cases.

Rumors have circulated there are many unreported cases of SARS in Beijing’s secretive military hospitals. A senior Chinese military surgeon said last week that China’s capital had several times as many cases as reported.

Alan Schnur, head of communicable disease control in WHO’s Beijing office, estimated Wednesday that Beijing has 100-200 SARS cases — far more than the 37 publicly reported.

Schnur said his figure was based on information gathered from health care workers and other sources and his own knowledge of the Chinese capital’s health system.

“Those are cumulative probable cases since March, when the disease was first picked up in Beijing. That’s my ‘guesstimate,”‘ Schnur said.

SARS has killed at least 65 people and infected 1,445 in mainland China — nearly half of the world’s cases — since it first surfaced in the southern province of Guangdong.

Meanwhile, scientists continue to expand their understanding of SARS.

The WHO said the final proof that a new type of coronavirus causes SARS came from analysis of experiments in the Netherlands in which monkeys infected with the suspected virus developed the same symptoms as humans.

Tests showed that this new virus, which comes from the same family of viruses as the one that causes the common cold, is main cause of SARS. It had previously remained unclear whether infection with a second type of virus makes the illness worse.

But the tests on monkeys showed that the second virus does not play a major role, said Albert Osterhaus, a virologist at the lab in Rotterdam.

More light was shed on SARS when scientists at the University of Hong Kong said Wednesday their research shows the virus came from animals — a finding they hope will eventually lead to a vaccine. But the scientists said more research is needed to determine which animal species spread SARS to humans.

Governments are continuing their own attempts to combat the spread of SARS. Hong Kong said that all departing airline passengers would have their temperatures checked starting at midnight Wednesday to stop anyone who might have SARS from traveling. Incoming passengers will be checked starting next week.