Originally created 01/13/04

China announces third suspected SARS case in Guangdong

BEIJING -- China's third suspected SARS case emerged Monday when authorities confirmed the hospitalization of a 35-year-old man who, like the two others, lives in the southern province of Guangdong - a region under orders to move aggressively against the disease.

The disclosure comes as China struggles to prevent another outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome, the illness that spread from Guangdong last year, sickening thousands worldwide and hobbling the region's economy.

The World Health Organization said it had been informed of the new suspected case, even as its medical detectives tested samples gathered in places frequented by the two other patients - a 32-year-old television producer and a 20-year-old waitress. The producer is the only confirmed case of the season.

Dr. Robert Breiman, the WHO team leader, told Associated Press Television News in Guangzhou, Guangdong's provincial capital, that the new suspected case was a shopkeeper who developed a fever and headache Dec. 31 and checked into the hospital a week later.

Fourteen people who came into close contact with him and 14 who came into casual contact have been isolated but show no symptoms, the Health Ministry said. It said the man was in stable condition, and that further tests will be conducted.

Certain wild animals are suspected of spreading SARS to people, although the new patient had touched no wildlife before becoming sick, said Wang Zhiqiong, deputy chief of the Guangdong Health Bureau.

The possibility of the disease in wildlife - much of it edible to people in Guangdong - has provoked actions that have reverberated across the province, China's richest region and its gateway to Hong Kong.

On Monday, after a week of slaughtering civet cats and other suspected mammal carriers, Guangdong pressed a campaign to eliminate rats. Among other efforts, Guangzhou is putting out 100 tons of poisoned grain and warning residents to handle rodent carcasses with care.

Other nations in the region have also been trying to avoid a resurgence of the disease. In Singapore, teachers passed out thermometers to 53,000 primary school students. The onset of fever is a key sign of severe acute respiratory syndrome.

WHO said workers at Taiwan's SARS laboratories need more supervision and safety training. All seven of Taiwan's SARS labs have been closed since a military scientist at one was infected after mishandling contaminated trash.

A WHO team inspected the labs last week and reported they were understaffed, said Chou Jih-haw, deputy director in Taiwan's Center for Disease Control. According to the WHO, one major problem was that scientists in the labs often work alone, raising the risk of mistakes going unnoticed, Chou said.

Meanwhile, wild animal fears were spreading to other areas in China.

The island of Hainan, China's southernmost province, has banned the selling, killing and eating of civet cats, the Health Ministry said. The Guangxi region, which neighbors Guangdong, said it would monitor its civet population and keep an eye on snakes, too.

Though a version of the SARS virus has been found in civet cats, a weasel-like animal related to the mongoose, definitive proof of how it appeared in humans remains elusive. That's what the WHO investigative team in Guangzhou focused on Monday.

They analyzed samples taken from the apartment complex where the TV producer lives, the restaurant where the waitress works and a market where wild animals had been sold. WHO spokesman Roy Wadia, in Guangdong, said scientists "scratched the surfaces of kitchens, floors, tiles, sanitation system."

Bob Dietz, a WHO spokesman in Beijing, said that while the agency is urging caution, "we still do not see a significant public health threat." He said a few cases in a country with a population of 1.3 billion should not be cause for alarm.

What became known as SARS was first noticed in Guangdong in late 2002 and went on to sicken more than 8,000 people worldwide, killing 774 of them. That outbreak waned in July.


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