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SARS Global Toll More Than 1,200 as China Releases Its Numbers

34 died in Guangdong province, which had 792 cases, official says

WEDNESDAY, March 26, 2003 (HealthDayNews) -- The global toll from a mysterious respiratory illness has jolted up, to more than 1,200, after mainland China raised its own death toll to at least 34 people, most of them in a province adjacent to Hong Kong.

Chinese officials on Wednesday said three people had died in Beijing and 31 had died in Guangdong province, according to the Associated Press. The province, which borders Hong Kong, was the site of an outbreak between November 2002 and February that, until Wednesday, had not been confirmed by any government or health authorities.

A spokeswoman for the Guangzhou city government, the province capital, told the AP that 792 cases of atypical pneumonia had been reported in the province by the end of February, 680 of them in Guangzhou. She said 31 people in Guangdong had died by the end of February.

World Health Organization officials now say that all the cases in Guangdong are consistent with the symptoms of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS).

With China's revised totals, and Singapore also reporting its first death, the SARS toll is now 1,226 infected and 52 dead in 13 countries on three continents.

In the United States, which has suspected cases in 18 states, the count went up by 1, to 40, Wednesday with an additional patient in Virginia. U.S. officials on Monday had said most of those cases involved people who had traveled to Asia.

Meanwhile, five WHO experts, who arrived in Beijing on Sunday to assess the Guangdong case, have not yet been allowed to visit the province, The New York Times reports. The group is reviewing epidemiologic information about SARS and has met with officials from Guangdong and Beijing.

The hardest-hit countries were moving on many fronts to stem the spread of SARS, as scientists try to confirm that one of two viruses found in patient specimens may be cause.

In Singapore, which upped its case count to 69 while reporting its first death, the government is closing all the schools -- from day-care centers to junior colleges -- starting Thursday. The move is a precaution to protect its 500,000 students, the health ministry said. On Monday, Singapore quarantined 740 people for 10 days.

In Hong Kong, which now has 286 cases and 10 deaths, there were news reports that about 60 schools had been closed. People now wear masks on the streets.

In Canada, which has had three deaths, health officials have quarantined about two dozen people after the number of probable cases in Ontario jumped to 18 from 10.

Dr. David L. Heymann, WHO's executive director in charge of communicable diseases, told the Times the organization was "very concerned" about the rising number of cases in Hong Kong, because "we have less information and we are less sure that containment activities are being successful."

One well-known victim is the chief executive of the Hong Kong Hospital Authority, Dr. William Ho, who was hospitalized Sunday. Ho, who is one of two doctors overseeing the SARS investigation, was confirmed as a SARS case Tuesday.

Heymann also said there was an urgent need to contain the disease in the 10 Hong Kong hospitals that are involved in the outbreak, as well as in schools, where cases have also occurred, the Times reports.

The illness appears to have been spread in Hong Kong and to Singapore, Vietnam and Canada by a small group of people waiting for an elevator on the ninth floor of the Metropole Hotel in Hong Kong on Feb. 21

Key among them was a Chinese medical professor who was reportedly ill when he arrived in Hong Kong to attend a relative's wedding. The South China Morning Post now says the professor, who was also a doctor, had treated atypical pneumonia patients on the mainland before his trip. He died in Hong Kong on March 4.

Two others from that hotel group, a Canadian woman and an American businessman based in Shanghai, have also died.

Hong Kong officials are also trying to track down 78 foreigners who stayed on the same hotel floor, news reports say. The guests were from mainland China, Britain, the United States, Singapore, Canada, Australia, Malaysia, Japan, the Philippines, Netherlands, Germany and Taiwan.

In addition, the officials are looking for 245 passengers from two Air China flights to Beijing after Tuesday's report that nine Hong Kong tourists on the flights are now sick.

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization have updates and information on SARS.

SOURCES: Associated Press; The New York Times
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