SARS Roundup: April 26, 2003

    Two possible cases from Toronto tested in U.S.
    China's health minister fired
    Cruise ship lines issue SARS ban
    Virus test inconclusive

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SATURDAY, April 26, 2003 (HealthDayNews) -- The fallout from trying to keep the deadly SARS virus isolated continues, literally and figuratively, this weekend.

Two people are being monitored in the United States for the flu-like virus that has already claimed more than 290 lives and affected more than 4,600 people, most of them in China.

The Associated Press reports that two recent visitors to Toronto -- a Brown University faculty member and a 2-year-old Minnesota boy -- are being monitored as possible SARS cases.

About 250 suspected cases of SARS have occurred in Toronto, resulting in 20 deaths. The identity of the Brown University professor hasn't been made public, but students and faculty members who may have had contact with the teacher have been informed, officials said. The professor, who works in the biology department, has been asked to stay away from the campus while the monitoring continues.

In Minnesota, two very young children are being tested for SARS, one of them having been on a trip to Toronto and the other having been in China.

Minnesota Health Department officials said the 2-year-old boy recently visited the Toronto area and the infant had recently traveled to China, according to the AP.

Meanwhile, Asian health officials are meeting over the weekend to determine the best way to control the SARS outbreak. The AP says India reported its fifth case of SARS, and Hong Kong raised its death toll by five to 121. Singapore reported one new death, bringing that country's total to 20. And mainland China reported seven new SARS fatalities Saturday, six of them in Beijing, raising its death toll to 122, the wire service reports.

One victim of all this doesn't even have SARS. China's Health Minister Zhang Wenkang, who had been stripped of his Communist Party posts last weekend, was relieved of his duties as minister on Saturday.

Precautions against SAR have spilled over into the tourist industry.

Carnival Cruise Lines and Royal Caribbean Cruises have issued a new policy: If a passenger has a fever more than 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit and has recently been to Toronto, he or she may be kept from boarding the ship.

The Associated Press reports that the two steamship lines announced the policy Friday. They already had banned passengers who had recently traveled to China, Singapore, Hong Kong or Vietnam.

Scientific research into isolating the SARS virus has gone all that well, either.

A detection test being developed by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has been, at best, inconclusive, the AP reports.

CDC officials said this week that about seven of the 13 probable cases of SARS that were tested came up negative.

"The fact that some of our probable SARS cases are not virologically positive is not surprising," CDC director Dr. Julie Gerberding, told the AP.

The SARS virus is apparently in a broad range of flu-like illnesses and is difficult to isolate, she said. And, she added, scientists haven't yet zeroed in on the timing of the test to make sure the virus is caught at its most identifiable stage.

The Chinese government is setting up roadblocks around Beijing and Shanghai to prevent infected people from spreading the disease, the Voice of America reports. On Friday, only a few cars were allowed to pass through checkpoints on roads leading out of the city.

The outbreak has forced China to postpone the start of the season for its men's and women's professional soccer teams. The SARS crisis may also affect the women's soccer World Cup, scheduled to be played in China this September and October, according to the Times.

Meanwhile, medical workers under quarantine for two weeks at a hospital in Taipei, Taiwan, protested their confinement by displaying banners and throwing bottles and paper from windows, the Associated Press reports.

And in Singapore, people with SARS who break quarantine could face jail without trial under new government rules meant to contain the disease.

The World Health Organization refused to rescind its travel advisory against non-essential travel to Toronto for 21 days. The WHO advisory has been challenged by city, provincial and federal officials, who say it's safe for tourists and other people to visit Toronto.

The publicity about SARS has caused some travel problems for residents of Toronto and surrounding areas. A girls' soccer team scheduled to play exhibition matches in Pennsylvania was told its games had been cancelled by the American organizers, the Toronto Star reports.

And hundreds of Toronto-area pilgrims have been asked by organizers to stay away from an outdoor Catholic mass this Sunday in Stockbridge, Mass.

More information

To learn more about SARS, visit the World HealthOrganization or the U.S. Centers forDisease Control and Prevention.

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