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Singapore man tests positive for SARS
( 2003-09-09 07:39) (Agencies)

Singapore health officials confirmed on Monday that a local patient has tested positive for severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, in the first new case of the disease in four months.

A nurse takes the temperature of a patient as part of the screening for SARS, before he was allowed to enter the waiting room of a hospital in Singapore, in this April 16, 2003 file photo. Singapore's Ministry of Health said on September 8, 2003 initial tests appeared to indicate one man had tested positive for the deadly Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) virus. [Reuters]

The announcement followed a warning from the World Health Organization earlier Monday that the illness could re-emerge.

Ministry of Health spokeswoman Bey Mui Leng told The Associated Press that initial tests of a local man "proved positive for the SARS virus." Bey said officials used a WHO-approved polymerase chain reaction test which detects the genetic material of the SARS virus itself, not the antibodies that fight it. PCR tests are more accurate than antibody tests.

"We are repeating the test again tonight," Bey said. The man, an ethnic Chinese Singapore citizen, was tested for SARS after showing signs of the illness when trying to enter Singapore General Hospital, Bey said.

Patients checking into Singapore hospitals are required to have their temperature taken as a precaution against SARS. Fever is an early symptom of the illness.

Officials are trying to track down anyone who might have come into contact with the man and will issue them quarantine orders, Bey said.

In Geneva, WHO spokesman Dick Thompson said he could not immediately comment. "We've been getting information from Singapore," he said. "But we're going to need a bit more."

Singapore's last reported case of the respiratory illness occurred in early May.

The city-state has been on alert against a possible second outbreak of SARS, which killed 33 people and sickened 328 in Singapore earlier this year.

Earlier Monday, the director general of the World Health Organization warned that SARS could return, and warned against complacency.

"We have to prepare on the assumption that this will come back," Lee Jong-wook told the annual conference in Manila of the WHO's regional committee for the Western Pacific region.

Some 16 health ministers and 131 representatives from 37 countries and representatives from 37 nongovernment organizations were attending the five-day meeting.

"Our challenge now is to enhance surveillance networks that will detect and deal with SARS if it does come back," Lee said.

SARS emerged in southern China in November and killed more than 800 people worldwide and infected over 8,400.

Singapore's SARS epidemic began in March this year and raged for three months, sending the city-state's economy into a tailspin. Visitor arrivals fell by as much as 75 percent and hotel occupancy rates plunged from their average 75 percent to as low as 25 percent as tourists and business travelers stayed away.

The epidemic forced the government to dole out 230 million Singapore dollars (US$134 million) in a relief package for the battered hospitality and travel sectors.

In an interview with Channel NewsAsia which aired Friday, Singapore Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew played down the threat of a second SARS wave, saying the local health care system is "well-prepared."

"The second time around, if it comes around, we should know what to do to protect ourselves," Lee said.

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