First SARS case in Japan could affect Taiwan's status

June 26 (CIDRAP News) – The World Health Organization (WHO) yesterday reported the first probable case of SARS in Japan, involving a 33-year-old Taiwanese man who came to Tokyo on June 21 for sightseeing.

Taiwanese officials, however, doubted that the man has SARS, according to the Associated Press. If the case is confirmed, it could jeopardize Taiwan's chances to be removed from WHO's list of areas with recent local SARS transmission. Currently only Toronto and Taiwan remain on the list, but WHO said it believes those outbreaks are close to being contained.

The Taiwanese man was hospitalized 2 days after arriving in Japan when he developed symptoms of SARS, according to a WHO news release. Testing is under way and an epidemiologic investigation has begun.

Taiwanese officials lodged a complaint with health authorities in Japan over the reporting of the case, according to Kyodo News Service. The case was first reported yesterday on WHO's Web site, and Taiwanese officials wanted to know why it was reported when it was only a probable case, according to the news service. WHO, however, has been reporting probable cases since the SARS outbreak began 4 months ago.

In other developments, WHO officials predicted today that if SARS resurfaces in the future, the world health community will be better prepared and the global impact of the disease will be less than it was the first time. WHO cites five reasons to support its view:

  • Public health systems have "demonstrated their capacity to move quickly into a phase of high alert." Rapid detection and isolation of imported cases in Africa and India show the vigilance that health officials worldwide demonstrated with SARS. Other areas that have experienced significant outbreaks have vowed to maintain a high level of vigilance.
  • The world now knows and is prepared to use proper control measures.
  • Research now under way will lead to a better understanding of the disease and may yield a rapid diagnostic test.
  • Resolutions adopted during the World Health Assembly in May have strengthened WHO's role. WHO will now be able to warn the world quickly when evidence indicates an outbreak, instead of passively relying on official government notifications before alerting others.
  • Countries now understand the necessity to immediately and fully disclose cases because of the risk of international spread.

See also:

WHO report on case in Japan

WHO statement on future management of SARS

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