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SARS Cases Soar in China

CDC Offers New Travel Guidelines to Reduce SARS Risk
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April 21, 2003 -- In a sign that China wants the world to know it's taking the SARS (sudden acute respiratory syndrome) outbreak very seriously, the government today sacked its health minister and the major of Beijing who had initially played down the epidemic. The firings came after a weekend in which Chinese officials acknowledged an additional 448 undisclosed SARS cases, bringing the total number of confirmed cases in China to 1,959 including 86 deaths.

The Chinese government also announced plans to tone down its traditional weeklong May Day holiday to a single day of celebration.

"The purpose of such an act is to prevent the massive movement of people and the possible spread of the disease," says Gao Qiang, an executive health minister, in a news release. The Communist May Day holiday on May 1 traditionally attracts millions of celebrants to travel across China.

An investigative team from the World Health Organization arrived in Shanghai today to investigate the SARS outbreak in that major shipping port where local officials have so far confirmed only two cases of SARS. An earlier report from the WHO raised concerns that health officials in many areas of China may not be prepared to handle SARS and might not be reporting all probable cases of the disease to Beijing authorities.

The WHO has also expressed concern over how the SARS outbreak seems to taking a turn for the worst in Hong Kong. Over the weekend, a record number of SARS patients (12) died in Hong Kong, and officials say these deaths are occurring more frequently in young, previously healthy people.

Local health officials in Hong Kong say a more severe form of SARS has emerged among a cluster of 321 SARS cases that occurred among residents of the Amoy Gardens apartment complex. About 20% of these patients require more intensive medical care compared with the 10% of other SARS patients that have required such care. Two-thirds of the Amoy SARS cases have also developed diarrhea as a symptom of their disease compared with 2% to 7% of cases in other outbreaks.

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