- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 17, 2003

The World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention this week cautioned businesses, universities and other organizations not to overreact to the SARS illness by excluding Asian visitors from mass gatherings, such as graduations.

While many countries appear to have the flulike illness under control, China is still working to contain its spread there.

The WHO cautioned against “irrational behavior” and “the exclusion of people” coming from SARS-affected areas, such as China.

Some schools, such as Washington University in St. Louis, discouraged people from SARS-affected areas from attending graduation ceremonies.

The University of California at Berkeley initially banned students from SARS-affected countries from their summer courses. The school modified its policy last weekend and is now allowing 80 students from Hong Kong, China and Taiwan into the program to take core academic courses, the university’s news bulletin reported. But more than 500 other students from these areas who wanted to take summer English classes are being turned away.

The WHO reiterated that, according to the latest information, only people with symptoms can spread SARS, and transmission only occurs through close personal contact.

The organization said visitors from SARS-affected areas who are symptom-free should “freely be welcomed.” A visitor who develops symptoms within 10 days of arriving in the host country should be isolated in his or her room and the health authorities should be contacted. And those who have been in close contact with a SARS patient in the past 10 days should not leave their country in the first place.

“The best defense is not exclusion but good management of the situation in the unlikely event that someone attending a meeting were to become sick with SARS,” according to the WHO Web site.

The CDC issued similar guidelines, saying that classes, meetings and gatherings should not be canceled or changed because of visitors from SARS-affected areas.

The majority of the SARS outbreaks around the world are coming to an end, the World Health Organization said yesterday as officials expressed “great hope” that measures to control the spread of the disease were working.

Struggles remain in mainland China, but the epidemic there, although large, is no more complex than it is in other countries, and the government is making great strides, said Mike Ryan, the WHO’s coordinator of the global effort to stop the severe acute respiratory syndrome virus.

Scientists from 16 SARS-struck locations concluded a 1-day conference yesterday at the WHO’s Geneva headquarters, where they discussed the factors that allow the virus to spread, the effectiveness of control measures and what remaining questions need to be answered.

As of Friday, worldwide there have been 7,739 probable SARS cases and 611 deaths. China reported 39 of the new cases and four new deaths of the 54 new SARS cases and 13 deaths worldwide yesterday. The other nine new deaths were in Taiwan and Hong Kong.

This story is based in part on wire service reports.

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