New SARS cases confirmed in China; Virus can be airborne
China confirmed two new cases of SARS and said two other people were suspected of having the disease, one of whom died. According to Associated Press, it would be the first SARS fatality in China since July of 2003.
Those confirmed to have the disease — a 31-year-old man from Beijing and a 26-year-old woman from Anhui province — both worked in laboratories in Beijing for China's Centers for Disease Control and were likely infected there, according to the official Xinhua News Agency. Beijing and Anhui are also where the two suspected SARS cases were identified. The one who died was the mother of the woman confirmed to have SARS (Audra Ang, AP, April 23). The other person suspected of having the disease is a 20-year-old nurse in Beijing.
Hundreds of people have been quarantined in response to the new outbreak, and the government said it would begin disinfecting public buildings and take the temperature of travelers at all ports of entry. "Anyone who has a temperature over 38 degrees Celsius (100.4 Fahrenheit) will be taken to the hospital," said a Health Ministry statement published in Chinese newspapers. "No one will be exempt" (Ang, AP/Yahoo! News, April 23).
Beijing has suffered more from the disease than any other city worldwide. Last year, 774 people worldwide died from SARS, 349 in mainland China. More than 8,000 were infected (Audra Ang, AP, April 23).
The new cases come one day after health ministers from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) adopted a joint strategy to fight deadly epidemics such as SARS and bird flu, which have killed more than 800 people in the region and caused billions of dollars of economic loss over the past two years (U.N. Wire, April 22). China was criticized for failing to report the first outbreaks of SARS in late 2002, accused of trying to hide the epidemic and allowing it to spread to other nations. Today Chinese Vice Minister of Health Zhu Qingsheng told reporters at the ASEAN meeting in Penang, Malaysia, "We will cooperate with Asian countries. We will be transparent in all our cases. We will be honest."
The ASEAN health ministers agreed to cooperate on disease surveillance, early warnings and response to outbreaks (M. Jegathesan, Agence France-Presse, April 23).
Researchers Say SARS Can Spread Through Air
An outbreak of the SARS virus that infected 300 people in a Hong Kong apartment complex last year appears to have been spread through the air, researchers wrote in yesterday's issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.
Experts had entertained the notion of airborne transmission of SARS, but previous theories about the rapid spread of the disease had focused on close physical contact. Rodents were considered a possible vector for the outbreak at the Amoy Gardens complex, and a World Health Organization investigation concluded that a malfunctioning plumbing system could have spread the virus among residents.
Ignatius Yu of Prince of Wales Hospital in Hong Kong and colleagues, however, conducted a computer analysis of the pattern of infection and postulated that the virus spread through air shafts in one building and then spread to other buildings via their air shafts.
"It was a peculiar event," said U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lead medical epidemiologist for SARS Umesh Parashar. "In most instances, you do require close contact with a person with SARS."
Parashar said the theory of airborne transmission has been considered a "plausible" explanation for the spread of the disease, which infected more than 8,400 people in 29 countries and killed more than 900. Other experts cited in the Washington Post said airborne transmission could account for several instances in which groups of people became infected without close contact with a sick person (Rob Stein, Washington Post, April 22).