- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 29, 2003

China reported three new SARS cases — the lowest number yet — yesterday, leaving the World Health Organization “cautiously optimistic” that the country hit hardest by the pneumonialike illness is getting it under control.

The WHO “is cautiously optimistic that outbreaks in mainland China are being brought under control in provinces with good surveillance and reporting systems and good infection control in hospitals,” yesterday’s WHO update read.

Meanwhile, Canada continues to struggle to contain its second wave of SARS cases, which surfaced late last week in Toronto — a city that believed it had gotten rid of the disease. More than 7,000 people there are now in quarantine, waiting to see whether they develop the symptoms of SARS, also known as severe acute respiratory syndrome.

“Everyone’s having to adjust again to having to deal with another cluster of cases,” Dr. James Young, Ontario’s Commissioner of Public Safety said yesterday. But he stressed that “we did the right things.”

“We got success the last time. We’ll have success again,” he said.

Taiwan reported 50 new probable cases of SARS yesterday, but officials said that number includes 40 who had tested negative and were retested and found to be positive. Officially, Taiwan reported 10 new probable cases to the WHO yesterday.

Earlier this week, the WHO said the outbreak in Taiwan appeared to be declining. The WHO explained that the large numbers of new cases in recent days in Taiwan was in part because of a clearing out of a backlog as hundreds of patients in the “pending” category were investigated and many were reclassified as probable or suspected SARS cases. The number of genuinely new SARS cases is going down each day, the WHO explained.

There are 29 active probable SARS cases in Canada, according to the WHO, whose definition Canadian officials are using in their daily updates. This is up from 12 active probable cases reported Wednesday.

“We were expecting to see a spike,” said Dr. Colin D’Cunha, Ontario’s commissioner of public health. “You’ll see some ‘suspects’ move to ‘probable’ when you apply the WHO definition.”

The group of 29 includes 24 probable cases from the newest outbreak and five left over from the original outbreak. There are also eight suspect cases, for 37 SARS cases in Canada.

Dr. D’Cunha said one SARS case is a teenager and that that age group has to be approached differently than the general population, as far as urging members to cooperate with isolation and other precautionary measures. Dr. Young stressed that people should frequently wash their hands and stay at home if they are sick. He said health care workers should continue strict precaution measures, isolating suspected cases and quick tracing of all contacts.

The new outbreak originated from a 96-year old man who came into a Toronto hospital for a hip replacement and developed what was thought to be pneumonia, a common occurrence in the elderly after operations. He died, but it became apparent that he had had SARS and had infected others. Canadian officials said they are investigating how exactly the man contracted SARS.

Meanwhile, Chinese officials are turning off air conditioners in public places as a way to stop the spread of SARS there. The WHO said it has no evidence that SARS is spread this way but that it does recommend that hospitals turn off air conditioners and open windows for ventilation. This is recommended for only hospital settings, the WHO Web site said.

Officials in China’s Guangdong province, where SARS is believed to have originated, have confiscated thousands of wild animals this week from markets, restaurants and other areas, as they try to root out the source of the illness. Last week, a virus nearly identical to the human SARS virus was discovered in civet cats and a raccoon-dog from a Guangdong market.

China also has sentenced four farmers in the Hebei province to prison for protesting a local hospital being used to treat SARS victims.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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