SARS Death Toll Hits 100
April 7, 2003 09:45 p.m. EST
(CBS) China disclosed Monday that a deadly respiratory illness had struck in more of its provinces than previously reported, while experts in the south looked into whether the disease came from animals on farms or in the wild. The worldwide death toll reached 100.
In nearby Hong Kong, officials said they were preparing for a worst-case scenario of 3,000 cases of severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, amid fears its health system could be stretched beyond its limits. There are 700 cases there and officials say its hospitals can currently handle 1,500 cases.
On Monday, Hong Kong health officials announced that a 78-year-old woman had died ÃƒÂ¯Ã‚Â¿Ã‚Â½ the 100th death reported in Asia and North America. More than 2,300 people have been sickened worldwide. China and Canada both reported one new fatality in the last day, and two deaths were reported Monday in Singapore.
Canada’s ninth death occurred April 1 at a Toronto hospital, but was only confirmed as SARS on Sunday. The victim initially was given a different cause of death but officials took another look at the case when a relative was found to be a possible SARS victim, officials said Sunday.
In the interim, reports Chris Mavrides of CBS Radio affiliate CFRB-AM, the victim’s family has contracted the illness and may have spread it to others.
“We’re not yet out of the woods,” Dr. Colin D’Cunha, the Ontario chief medical officer of health, said. Like most of the other Canadian cases, this one has a link to a particular Toronto hospital, said D’Cunha: Scarborough Grace Hospital east of Toronto, which has now been declared the “hot zone” for the disease. Canada has 170 cases of SARS, all in Toronto.
China and Hong have been the hardest hit by SARS, with 53 and 23 deaths respectively in each nation. Symptoms include high fever, aches, dry cough and shortness of breath. No cure has been found.
Also Monday, the Beijing office of the Geneva-based International Labor Organization was sealed, and an employee of the diplomatic office building said it was disinfected after a Finnish official of the agency fell ill with severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, in Beijing. The official died Sunday. Chinese officials had reported 43 SARS deaths in the southern province of Guangdong, where experts suspect the illness originated, with fatalities also coming in Beijing and the Guangxi region.
On Monday, Chinese state television reported that there were also one SARS death each in the provinces of Shanxi in the north, Sichuan in the west and Hunan in central China ÃƒÂ¯Ã‚Â¿Ã‚Â½ the first fatalities in those areas and an indication the disease was more widespread geographically than previously acknowledged. The new disclosures come after mounting criticism at home and abroad that China’s communist government was too slow to release information about SARS.
In New Delhi, World Health Organization director-general Gro Harlem Brundt said Sunday that “it would have been much better if the Chinese government had been more open in the early stages.”
Meanwhile, World Health Organization experts who are searching Guangdong for clues to how SARS spreads and why it kills were looking into whether it might have come from animals. The team hasn’t yet found clear evidence to support that widely discussed possibility, but its members met with local animal-health officials and discussed both farm animals and wildlife, including pigs, ducks, bats, rodents, chickens and other birds, said team leader, Dr. Robert Breiman. Experts have linked SARS to a new form of coronavirus, other forms of which usually are found in animals. That link “may suggest that it originates from animals,” Breiman said. However, he said, “the discussions today were inconclusive, so we really don’t have clues.”
The team, in Guangdong since Thursday, also is meeting with doctors and scientists, visiting hospitals and reviewing medical records.
On Sunday, the Health Ministry reported six additional SARS deaths that raised China’s death toll to 52. That included Pekka Aro, the 53-year-old International Labor Organization official who died Sunday in a Beijing hospital, but the ministry didn’t give any details about the other deaths. The ILO office was closed Monday and smelled of disinfectant. A woman at the front desk of the diplomatic office building said government health workers started cleaning it Friday after the Finnish official was confirmed to have SARS.
The visa office of the New Zealand Embassy, located in the same building, was closed Monday as a precaution, said a New Zealand diplomat, Moana George. She said the embassy was discussing with the building management how to ensure any possible infection wouldn’t spread through the building.
Also Monday, the Straits Times newspaper in Singapore reported that Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong has called off an official trip to Beijing this week on the advice of his doctors. The report said Goh was going ahead with a visit to India that began Monday.
Meanwhile, Vietnamese officials said they were considering barring visitors from countries with the mysterious flu-like disease.
Japan reported six new possible cases and ordered local authorities to draw up emergency plans for coping with the outbreak.
SARS Death Toll Hits 100