Patient may be infected with SARS variation
( 2004-01-03 16:13) (Agencies)
Confusion over whether a suspected SARS patient in China has the disease has deepened with tests suggesting he may have been infected by a new strain of the virus, according to media reports.
The report from south China's Guangdong province, where the patient is being treated in hospital, echoed previous announcements that the 32-year-old may have SARS.
"It is possible that the man with the suspected case of SARS in the province has contracted SARS," the official Xinhua news agency said, citing the Center for Disease Prevention and Control in Guangdong.
This comes after a week of is-he isn't-he debate on the status of the patient as a torrent of conflicting test results left experts unable to say definitively if he is suffering from Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome.
The statement followed investigations of the genetic make-up of the virus found in the man, showing he may have contracted a variation of the SARS-related coronavirus that had previously gone undetected, Xinhua said.
Late Friday, the World Health Organization (WHO) was equally non-committal, saying initial tests showed the man might indeed have been exposed to the coronavirus that causes SARS, although it would take days to tell for sure.
This was the preliminary conclusion from a test -- conducted only once so far, and early on in the case -- that measured the level of SARS-neutralizing antibodies in the patient's blood, the WHO said in a statement.
"The results from that neutralization test indicated that the patient may have been slightly exposed to the SARS coronavirus at some point, but it was impossible to determine exactly when," the statement said.
The suspected case emerged a week ago when the TV-station worker was admitted to hospital with a fever, the first indication of SARS.
While Chinese authorities soon after said tests showed he was suffering from the potentially lethal disease, the WHO and other Chinese experts said more research was needed for a diagnosis to be made.
The news struck fear into a region still recovering from the spring 2003 outbreak of the mysterious disease, which went on to kill almost 800 people worldwide and wrecked Asian economies in its wake.
WHO experts discussing the findings in a late-night teleconference Friday agreed that new neutralization tests would have to be made to get a clearer picture.
The additional virus neutralization tests will compare the level of SARS-neutralizing antibodies in the patients blood over recent days with levels found early in the course of his disease.
"Some of the most useful antibody tests are when samples collected during the early phase of infection are compared with samples taken during the recovery phase," Julie Hall, SARS team leader of the WHO China office, said in the statement.
It will probably be early next week before a more definite answer can be given to the question if the patient indeed has the disease, which killed 349 in China last year.
"The neutralization test is conducted over the weekend," WHO spokesman Roy Wadia said Saturday. "The earliest we can get the results will be Monday, or even Tuesday."
In southern Guangdong province, a team of health ministry and WHO experts wrapped up an inspection tour, looking a local preparedness against SARS.
Although the team praised the way authorities had handled the suspected SARS case, it also pinpointed areas where improvement is needed.
"Not all people with fever and cough are reporting to the specialized 'fever clinics'," the team said in a statement. "The use of the 'fever clinics' appears to be relatively low."
The joint team has found that while current infection control practices in healthcare settings are satisfactory, "further refinements should be made," the statement said.
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