Feb 3, 2004 (CIDRAP News) – The World Health Organization (WHO) has expressed concern about China's handling of its fourth recent case of SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome), which involved a 40-year-old physician and hospital director and was revealed Jan 31.
The man, who heads a hospital in Guangzhou, capital of Guangdong Province, fell ill Jan 7 and has since recovered, according to an Associated Press (AP) report. The WHO said his case was confirmed by laboratories in Beijing and Guangdong and a WHO reference lab in Hong Kong.
A Jan 31 statement from WHO's Western Pacific Region office said the man experienced fever and myalgia Jan 7 and was diagnosed with pneumonia Jan 14. "Despite these facts, he was not properly isolated in hospital until January 16, he was not declared as a suspect case to the Ministry of Health of China until January 26, and WHO was not informed about his case until January 30," the agency said.
An online report by China Daily said the physician denied having had any contact with SARS patients or animals. China's Ministry of Health found nine close contacts and 39 casual contacts of the man, and all were reported to be well, according to the WHO.
The WHO said it was "strongly recommending further investigation into the sources of infection" for the physician and other recent SARS patients in Guangdong. The agency also called for an urgent review of the contact tracing in the physician's case to make sure all potential sources of the infection and all potentially exposed people were found.
Despite its concerns over the handling of the case, the WHO said the case didn't appear to signal a major threat to public health.
Three other SARS cases have been reported in Guangdong within the past month. The WHO confirmed cases in a 20-year-old waitress and a 32-year-old television journalist, both of whom recovered. A 35-year-old businessman, who also recovered, had a case that the WHO was still classifying as probable, though it was confirmed by a Chinese laboratory.
In a review of the cases Jan 27, WHO officials said the source of infection had not been determined in any of them. However, investigators suspected that the waitress was infected through contact with civets, which were kept in cages in the restaurant where she worked.
Jan 27 WHO review of recent SARS cases in southern China