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Studies Provide New Details about SARS
A new study rushed for release today in The Journal of the American Medical Association provides further details of the SARS outbreak in Toronto. As suspected, Canadian researchers report the epidemic was triggered by members of a Toronto family who had traveled to China and stayed with people who likely had SARS.
Upon returning to Canada, one of these family members fell ill and died, and others were admitted to the hospital, which later became the epicenter of the SARS outbreak as healthcare workers caring for the family members became infected with SARS and spread it to other patients and co-workers.
Of the 144 Canadian SARS cases studied, eight of them died. Six also had diabetes, but officials say it's still too soon to draw conclusions about what makes some people more prone than others to serious illness or death due to SARS.
"In general, people with compromised immune systems tend to have more difficulty with infectious diseases, but beyond that it is too early to define specific risk factors that define the outcome of SARS," says CDC director Julie Gerberding, MD in a briefing today. She says factors such as a person's genes or the amount of the virus they were exposed to may also play a role.
A released today in the British journal The Lancet also suggests the risk of death due to SARS might be much greater among older people. Researchers studied 1,425 SARS cases from Hong Kong reported through April 28. They found an average of 43% of SARS patients over the age of 60 who were admitted to the hospital died of SARS, compared with only about 13% of those patients under 60.
But the same study also found the implementation of public health interventions has had a major impact on reducing the number of new SARS cases in Hong Kong. Those measures include encouraging people to go to the hospital at the first sign of SARS symptoms, tracing the contacts of confirmed and suspected cases, and monitoring and restricting travel for contacts of SARS patients.