SARS Roundup: May 7, 2003

- SARS deadlier than previously thought, new study says - U.S. approves use of force to detain some international travelers - China's rural health system not prepared to cope with epidemic - U.S. offers more assistance to China

WEDNESDAY, May 7, 2003 (HealthDayNews) -- SARS is deadlier than World Health Organization (WHO) figures indicate, says a new study that estimates the disease has killed about 20 percent of people admitted to hospitals in Hong Kong.

WHO's most recent estimate of the SARS death rate is 7 percent, which was increased from an initial estimate of 5 percent.

The new study, published online Wednesday in the journal The Lancet, was led by the Imperial College in London.

The study also included researchers from Hong Kong University, Chinese University of Hong Kong and Hong Kong health officials. The authors say this is the first statistically sound estimate of the SARS death rate.

They concluded the death rate was 20 percent after examining about 1,400 SARS cases from the first nine weeks of the epidemic in Hong Kong. The study found that the highly infectious respiratory disease kills 55 percent of people over age 60.

The death rate is much lower -- 6.8 percent -- for people under age 60.

WHO officials aren't commenting on the study's findings, but one WHO official told CBC News Online that the death rate is lower in areas where the SARS outbreak is in decline.

Despite their finding that the SARS death rate is much higher than previously thought, the study authors say that proper public health measures, such as swift hospital quarantine of suspected SARS cases, effectively control the spread of the disease.

As part of the United States' efforts to prevent a serious outbreak of SARS, the federal government has authorized immigration and customs agents at the country's international airports to use force to detain any passengers who may be SARS carriers, The New York Times reports.

During training sessions, the agents have been informed that, along with checking baggage and passports, they must pay attention to the health of passengers arriving in the United States from Asian cities that have suffered severe SARS outbreaks.

The customs and immigration agents have been told to watch for passengers who appear to have a high fever, breathing problems or any other possible SARS symptoms. Passengers suspected of having SARS would be detained and health inspectors called to check them, the Times reports.

Anyone confirmed to have SARS would be moved to a hospital or other medical facility and placed under quarantine.

Meanwhile, the SARS situation in China seems to grow worse each day.

A team of WHO experts is traveling to the northern Chinese province of Hebei to investigate why the number of SARS cases there have doubled in recent days, Voice of America reports.

And Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao has admitted that the health-care system in rural parts of the country is incapable of coping with a major SARS outbreak. He said China's rural health facilities are weak, epidemic surveillance systems unsound and technical capabilities inadequate, BBC News Online reports.

That admission about the sorry state of rural health care in China comes at the same time that there are signs the SARS epidemic in the capital city of Beijing is starting to spread to surrounding provinces.

On Wednesday, China reported 159 new SARS cases and five more deaths, for a total of 4,568 cases and 219 deaths. Most of the cases and deaths have been in Beijing.

Worldwide, the SARS death toll is nearing 500 people and more than 6,800 have been infected.

As SARS continues to rage in China, mass quarantines and other strict measures continue to be imposed on its citizens. The Associated Press reports that Chinese police say all pets owned by quarantined people must be isolated or destroyed. There's concern that the pets may carry and transmit the disease.

Russia is considering placing tight restrictions along its border with China, where it would allow only Chinese citizens to leave Russia and only Russian citizens to enter the country. There's even talk of completely closing the Russia-China border, says the AP.

Meanwhile, the United States has agreed to cooperate with China on SARS research. The United States also said it would send more health advisers to China.

More information

To learn more about SARS, visit the World Health Organization or the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Robert Preidt

Robert Preidt

Published on May 07, 2003

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