Editor's note: This article was revised a few hours after publication to include additional information from the World Health Organization.
Apr 26, 2004 (CIDRAP News) – Close to 500 people have been quarantined in China's new outbreak of SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome), but so far the disease has not spread beyond people connected with a student who apparently was infected in a government laboratory, according to news service reports.
Two confirmed SARS cases and six suspected cases have been reported in China in the last 5 days. The outbreak began with a 26-year-old medical student with the surname Song, who became ill after working in a viral disease laboratory in Beijing from March 7 to 22. One confirmed case and six suspected cases have been linked with her.
Authorities have quarantined 337 people in Beijing and 133 people in Song's home province of Anhui, according to an Associated Press (AP) report today. Reuters reported that 180 staff members of the viral disease laboratory have been quarantined at a resort north of Beijing.
The World Health Organization (WHO) said today that nearly 1,000 contacts of the confirmed and suspected case-patients, including 640 in Beijing and 353 in Anhui province, are "under medical observation." The statement didn't specify whether all of those were quarantined.
The Chinese government said all the possible cases so far have been linked to one patient, indicating that the outbreak is still "tightly confined," according to the AP report. The WHO concurred, stating, "To date, all diagnosed cases and cases under investigation have been linked to chains of transmission involving close personal contact with an identified case. There is no evidence of wider transmission in the community."
The WHO said it is sending a team to China, at the request of the Chinese Ministry of Health, to help in the epidemiologic investigation. The team is expected to begin its work Apr 28.
Chinese authorities have confirmed SARS in Song and in a 20-year-old nurse, surnamed Li, who cared for Song when the latter was hospitalized in Beijing. A 31-year-old man, surnamed Yang, who worked in the same virology lab as Song, is also suspected of having the disease. In addition, Song's mother, surnamed Wei, died Apr 19 after battling pneumonia that is now suspected to have been SARS.
The WHO said the latest suspected cases, announced yesterday, involve Li's mother, father, aunt, and a woman who was on the same hospital ward as Li when she was being treated. All four live in Beijing and experienced their first symptoms between Apr 16 and 19. The agency said Li's mother is in serious condition with pneumonia, but the other three are in stable condition.
Those four patients, along with Yang, were in Ditan Hospital in Beijing, according to a report today in the newspaper China Daily.
In containment efforts, the government has published details concerning trains and buses that Song and her mother used in traveling between Beijing and Anhui after Song became ill.
Last week the National Institute of Virology in Beijing, where Song worked, was closed pending an investigation of how she became infected. The Reuters report today said five teams of experts were sent to conduct emergency safety checks at provincial labs.
The WHO said Song and Yang, who both worked in the virology lab, experienced their first symptoms 23 days apart, "suggesting that more than one opportunity for exposure may have occurred in the laboratory from mid-March through early April."
Apr 26 WHO statement