- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 30, 2003

The World Health Organization lifted its Toronto travel advisory effective today, and Canadian officials yesterday told a Senate panel that their country had its outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome under control.
"The streets of Toronto are as safe from SARS as the streets of London, Paris or Washington," Dr. James G. Young, commissioner of public security for Ontario, told the Senate's Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. "We do feel we have a handle on the situation."
Canadian officials vowed to continue proactive measures, including screening at airports for people who may be infected.
Meanwhile, senators on the panel expressed concern that China continued to struggle to contain the pneumonialike illness, largely because the Chinese government initially downplayed the number of cases. Chinese officials now are working with the WHO and other organizations to contain the outbreak, but 202 new probable SARS cases were reported yesterday in China, bringing the total number of cases there to 3,303, with a total of 148 reported deaths, the WHO said.
"There is very little suggestion right now that it's going to go away anytime soon in China," Dr. Julie L. Gerberding, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told the panel.
As of yesterday, a total of 5,462 probable SARS cases with 353 deaths have been reported from 27 countries, the WHO said.
The agency said it dropped the Toronto travel advisory because the magnitude of probable SARS cases had decreased, 20 days had passed since the last cases of community transmission occurred, and no new confirmed exportation of SARS had occurred.
Dr. Gerberding praised the work of Canadian officials, but said the CDC was "encouraging the entire United States to remain vigilant" against imported cases of SARS. The CDC is distributing SARS alert cards along the U.S.-Canadian border.
Canada has reported 146 probable cases of SARS and 21 deaths, mostly of older people, said Dr. Paul Gully, director of the Population and Public Health Branch of Health Canada. He said rapid isolation of potential SARS victims was key to containing the disease.
"I think the people of Toronto, the people of Ontario and the people of Canada are very happy" about the lifting of the warning, Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien told Canada's House of Commons.
Dr. Gerberding reported 220 suspected cases and 52 probable cases of the viral illness in the United States.
She said the CDC for the first time has made laboratory tests part of the criteria for diagnosing SARS. The CDC's initial diagnostic test kits will be sent to states at the end of this week, allowing doctors to more effectively diagnose the disease. She noted, however, that a negative test result does not necessarily mean the person has not been infected with SARS, and scientists continue to work on improving the tests.
The Canadian outbreak started in mid-March when a woman infected with SARS returned to Toronto from Asia, became sick and died. She infected her 43-year-old son, who went to a hospital and quickly spread it to large numbers of other patients, health care workers and family members.
Drs. Young and Gully detailed the strong measures taken to contain the spread, including temporarily closing two hospitals in the province and restricting activities in the rest. Everyone was checked for illness before entering a hospital, staff members were required to take extra precautions, patients with respiratory problems were quarantined immediately, and elective surgery was postponed. In the community, public health officials tracked contacts of SARS cases and imposed 10-day quarantines.
Dr. Young advised senators not to be afraid to take such bold action should a U.S. city experience an outbreak.
Dr. Gerberding said the CDC is prepared. She said a Harvard University poll found that 93 percent of the American public was aware of SARS, 89 percent said they would tell their doctors of recent travel if they came down with flulike symptoms and 94 percent said they were willing to be isolated if they were suspected of having SARS.
This story is based in part on wire service reports.

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