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SARS Cases Climb to More than 1,300

Chinese Cases Now Included in Mysterious Pneumonia Tally

WebMD Health News

March 26, 2003 -- The number of suspected cases of the mysterious pneumonia called SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) nearly tripled today, as international officials finally included almost 800 cases reported in China where the outbreak is believed to have originated. The World Health Organization (WHO) now estimates that 1,323 people have been infected with SARS worldwide, including 49 who died.

The number of SARS cases under investigation in the U.S. by the CDC also rose today to 45 across 20 states, but no deaths have been reported in this country.

WHO officials are also investigating nine Chinese tourists who may have become ill with SARS after sharing a flight with an infected individual from Hong Kong to Beijing. If confirmed, it would be the first instance of people becoming infected with severe acute respiratory syndrome on a plane.

The Hong Kong health department is currently investigating the report. But WHO experts say there is no need to change its current travel advice based on current information.

The WHO continues to recommend no travel restrictions to any destination, but advises travelers to remain alert about SARS symptoms and report them immediately. These symptoms include high fever (above 100.4 degrees), cough, shortness of breath, and difficulty breathing.

Officials say a number of people with severe acute respiratory syndrome have taken long distance flights after becoming ill, and thousands of passengers who traveled on these same flights have been traced. No cases of SARS have been reported among these people.

SARS is believed to be transmitted only through close, face-to-face contact with an infected person, and the vast majority of cases have been reported among family members or healthcare workers of persons ill with the mysterious pneumonia.

Since close contact is possible on a fight, WHO officials say transmission may be possible among passengers sitting close to a sick passenger. But they stress the evidence to date suggests that type of in-flight transmission is very unusual.

China Now Recognized as Source of Outbreak

A team of international infectious disease experts arrived in China on Sunday to review data collected by Chinese health authorities regarding an outbreak of atypical pneumonia that began in the Guangdong province last November.

After comparing descriptions of these cases and with the definition currently used to identify probable SARS cases, the experts say they were compatible.

"The WHO expert team reached the conclusion that the atypical pneumonia cases which began occurring in southern China in November 2002 are likely cases of the same disease, now referred to as SARS, that began appearing in other Asian countries on 26 February and has since spread widely to several cities throughout the world," announced WHO officials in a statement today.

Chinese authorities today officially reported a total of 792 cases and 31 deaths associated with the mysterious pneumonia between November 16, 2002 and February 28, 2003. The WHO plans to include further statistics on cases reported in China during March as that information becomes available.

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