Apr 29, 2004 (CIDRAP News) – Chinese officials today upgraded two cases of suspected SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) to confirmed status, bringing the number of confirmed cases in the current outbreak to four, according to news service reports.
A total of nine cases have been reported in China since Apr 22, the World Health organization (WHO) said yesterday. One of the patients died Apr 19, and the other eight were hospitalized, the agency said.
The Associated Press (AP) reported today that the latest confirmed cases involved the mother and an aunt of a 20-year-old nurse, surnamed Li, who has a confirmed case. One of the two was in critical condition, but it was not clear which, the AP said.
All the cases are thought to be linked to a laboratory at China's National Institute of Virology in Beijing. The first patient, a 26-year-old medical student surnamed Song, became ill after working in the lab in March, and a 31-year-old man who worked in the lab fell ill later. Li, the nurse, got sick after caring for Song in a Beijing hospital.
The newest suspected case was reported yesterday in a 49-year-old female retired physician, according to the WHO. On Apr 12 she was admitted to the same hospital ward where Li was being treated for pneumonia, the WHO said yesterday. She began having SARS-like symptoms Apr 19 and was transferred to Beijing's Ditan Hospital and isolated Apr 22. The WHO said the physician's condition was critical.
Yesterday the WHO said nearly 700 people were in quarantine in Beijing because of possible exposure to SARS patients. Others have been quarantined in Song's home province of Anhui in east-central China. The AP report today said a total of about 1,000 people, including the 700 in Beijing, were in quarantine.
Despite the outbreak, a WHO official in China said people didn't need to cancel their travel plans for the weeklong May Day holiday, according to a Reuters report today. The government and the WHO have said the outbreak appears to be limited to people linked with the virology lab and their contacts.
The WHO has 14 people in China investigating the outbreak, according to an Agence France-Presse (AFP) report today. The AP quoted a WHO official as saying the investigators plan to visit the virology lab, but they want to talk to the two sick lab workers first to find out how they became infected.
In other developments, a 78-year-old man in Taiwan was quarantined today after he returned from mainland China and experienced a high fever and other influenza-like symptoms, the AP reported. The man returned to Taiwan Saturday after traveling in China for 2 weeks, the story said.
In yesterday's statement, the WHO said patients in the SARS outbreak were treated or assessed in open wards at seven hospitals (five in Beijing and two in Anhui) before health workers suspected SARS and took appropriate infection control measures. In addition, the two patients from Anhui (Song and her mother, who died Apr 19) took long train trips while ill.
However, China's response to the outbreak has been rapid and effective, the WHO said. The disease has an incubation period of about 10 days, and infected people are not believed to be infectious during that time. "For these reasons, rapid detection and isolation of cases, and rapid tracing and follow-up of contacts have been successfully used to bring a SARS outbreak under control," the agency said.
Apr 28 WHO statement