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30 April 2004

SARS Reappears in China, U.N. Health Authorities Report

U.S. health agencies engaged in global disease watch

By Charlene Porter
Washington File Staff Writer

Washington --Five confirmed cases of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) have been reported by Chinese authorities since April 22, and four more people under treatment for flu-like symptoms are being tested as suspected cases. One death has been reported so far, according to an update released by the World Health Organization (WHO) April 30.

The source of this round of cases is suspected to be Beijing's National Institute of Virology where studies using live SARS coronavirus were under way, according to the WHO statement. A female post-graduate student who worked at the facility in March developed symptoms. All the successive cases appear to be linked back to her. The one fatality was her 53-year-old mother, WHO reports.

The institute has been closed, and its 200 employees are under medical observation. In addition, 1000 more people who had close contact with the infected persons are being monitored for the development of symptoms.

The patients still under treatment are being kept in isolation, a lesson learned after the SARS outbreak of 2003, when the virus revealed itself to be highly transmissible in health care settings and took a disproportionately high toll among health care workers. Recognizing that pattern, U.S. and international health care agencies swiftly developed strict protocols to be followed regarding the isolation of suspected patients and protective procedures to be used by health care workers coming into contact with those patients.

Almost 8100 cases of SARS in 26 countries were reported in 2003 when the previously unknown respiratory disease swept out of Asia and found its way to every continent.

Top U.S. health officials testified to Congress this week that SARS demonstrates the threats to human health, the world economy, and national security posed by newly emerging or re-emerging diseases in a globalized world. In view of that reality, the director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) explained how her agency is collaborating with WHO and other international health care agencies to develop global disease detection systems that will ensure rapid response and containment.

Dr. Julie Gerberding said that CDC has 160 specialists deployed around the world providing assistance to other agencies working on disease detection and control. In addition, the agency has worked to provide rapid information and assistance from its Atlanta, Georgia, headquarters.

"[D]uring the SARS outbreak (of 2003), CDC was able to assemble a panel of WHO, CDC and other global experts and communicate live from a studio in Atlanta, Georgia to more than 2 million Chinese clinicians," Gerberding said.

Medical research is another component of the U.S. contribution to the global effort to counter SARS, according to National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) Director Anthony S. Fauci.

"NIAID supports research to understand the epidemiology and biology of the SARS virus and how it spreads, and to develop vaccines, diagnostic tests and therapeutic agents to effectively address any future SARS outbreaks," Fauci testified before a congressional health subcommittee April 28.

Fauci said NIAID scientists and other teams receiving funds from the U.S. government have had some recent successes in attempts to develop a SARS vaccine. One study revealed how the mouse immune system can develop antibodies capable of neutralizing the SARS virus. A second study was able to spur an antibody response to SARS in mice injected with a trial vaccine.