Early SARS test on HK woman negative
( 2003-09-16 14:24) (Agencies)
A quick SARS test on a 34-year-old woman in Hong Kong suffering from fever had come up negative but more work was needed to rule out the return of the deadly flu-like virus to the territory.
The Department of Health said a preliminary test on the woman Monday night had shown no sign of SARS, adding that results of further laboratory work would be available later on Tuesday.
Medical experts have sounded repeated warnings that the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome virus could re-emerge after it killed more than 800 people worldwide, but existing tests are not entirely reliable.
Asia went on high alert last week after Singapore said a medical researcher had tested positive for SARS in the world's first reported infection in three months. But fears eased after authorities said the case appeared to be isolated and assured the public he posed no significant health risk to others.
If tests on the latest patient show positive, it would be a major blow.
The woman's daughter, who is living with her, and her parents were all in good health and she had no travel history.
"It's not a suspected case for now. She has fever and her chest x-rays show some shadows, so we are making further lab tests," a health department spokeswoman said.
People with fever and breathing difficulties, and showing shadows in chest x-rays are now usually referred to public hospitals for SARS checks, said a health department spokesman.
The woman, who is in an isolation ward at Hong Kong's Princess Margaret Hospital, sought treatment for fever and shortness of breath on September 8 and was admitted to a private hospital two days later.
The virus was first reported in Guangdong Province last year before spreading to Hong Kong in February and then around the world.
It infected nearly 8,500 people, most of them in the Chinese mainland and Hong Kong. The epidemic cost companies billions of dollars in lost business, particularly in the tourism industry, and stunted economic growth in many parts of Asia.
"If it is an isolated case it's okay, but if there are any signs that the virus will spread across the territory that will be very bad news for Hong Kong," said Andrew To, sales director at Tai Fook Securities.
Others say it is possible there are milder, mutated versions that are impossible to detect. The infected researcher in Singapore did not exhibit all of the classic SARS symptoms.
A team of international experts visited laboratories in Singapore Monday in a bid to track the source of its mysterious single case of SARS. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta also provided two experts to help with the investigation.
Hong Kong has had several SARS scares since the epidemic was contained in early summer. In late July, 18 people were rushed to hospital for tests but were found to have influenza.
Some doctors say the territory, a major international financial center and gateway to China, is ill-prepared for another large-scale outbreak.
Isolation facilities holding about 1,300 hospital beds will not be ready until October or November and contingency plans detailing what public hospitals must do in the event of any SARS epidemic are still in the making.
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