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Suspect SARS case puts China on alert
Updated: 2004-04-23 08:58

The Ministry of Health held an emergent teleconference Thursday night after the announcement of one suspect SARS case in Beijing, making detailed actions to prevent the spread of severe acute respiratory syndrome.

The ministry asked local health authorities to enhance SARS preventative measures and spare no efforts to prevent hospital infection and protect the safety of health workers.

Local health institutions were also asked to resume the "zero" report mechanism on SARS immediately, namely to deliver daily surveillance report even though no cases were reported.

Strict epidemiological investigations were also required by the ministry.

The investigations should trace the activities of a patient in the last 20 days after the onset of disease and all the death as well as pneumonia cases with no clear causes happening twenty days in the hospital since a SARS-related patient is hospitalized should be investigated, the ministry said.

The ministry also asked hospitals to enhance observation to fever patients and deliver daily report on the death and pneumonia cases which had with no clear causes.

Other measures demanded by the conference included tightening laboratory safety and improving information sharing among government departments.

Meanwhile, the World Health Organization (WHO) China Office suggested the public "be sensible" to the possible reoccurrence of SARS, but "do not over react".

Bob Dietz, press officer of the WHO China Office, said that his office had been informed of the suspect SARS case by the Health Ministry Thursday evening.

"The ministry's investigations have started and the WHO is in close contact with the ministry," he said.

From a public health standpoint, the first step is to confirm the cases, trace their contacts and make sure more people do not become infected, Dietz said. "China has a lot of experience in this and we are sure they will respond promptly and effectively."

He said the fact that a suspect case was spotted early and reported is encouraging. "There is no cause to expect that China will not be able to contain this round of SARS just as it did the small outbreak in Guangdong in December and January."

He said WHO might send an expert team to China if the Chinese government requests help, "but China is capable of dealing with SARS".

"We are pleased that the Ministry of Health has shared information with WHO and we look forward to continued collaboration with the Ministry," he said.

According to the Health Ministry, the 20-year-old female patient surnamed Li was currently hospitalized in isolation in Beijing's Ditan Hospital and had undergone two examinations by a medical expert team of the ministry.

Some 171 people who had close contact with the patient have received medical observation and five who developed fever have been isolated for further observation.

Beijing has geared up the early warning system for SARS, organized an epidemiological investigation and disinfected the living and working places of the patient.

The Health Ministry said it has already informed Hong Kong and Macao health authorities of relevant information.

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