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SARS Outbreak Now Officially Contained

WHO Says Current SARS Threat Is Over, but Dangers Remain

WebMD Health News

July 8, 2003 -- More than 20 days have passed since the last new SARS case was reported in Taiwan, and officials say that means the chain of person-to-person transmission of the deadly disease has been broken.

Although the current threat of SARS may be gone, health officials say the lessons of SARS should not be forgotten, and the disease could still stage a comeback.

"With the last known chain of transmission interrupted in Taiwan, the whole world can breathe an initial sigh of relief," says David Heymann, MD, WHO executive director for communicable diseases, in a news release.

"At the same time, public health must not let down its guard, as more cases could still surface somewhere in the world. SARS has taught us that a single case is capable of igniting an outbreak."

SARS Threat Remains

The last known case of SARS in Taiwan and the world was detected and isolated on June 15, which was just four months after the global SARS outbreak began in February. Because two 10-day incubation periods have now passed since the last case was isolated, the WHO says the current outbreak is contained, but not necessarily over.

"We do not mark the end of SARS today, but we observe a milestone: The global SARS outbreak has been contained," says WHO director-general Gro Harlem Brundtland, MD, in a news release.

To date, the SARS outbreak has affected 8,436 people and resulted in 812 deaths. Nearly 200 people are still hospitalized with the disease, and officials admit it is possible that some cases may have gone undetected, and new cases may still be reported.

Officials also say that SARS may become a seasonal disease and return later in the year. They say SARS will continue to pose a threat to public health until the original source of the outbreak has been detected, and effective diagnostic tests and treatments for the disease are developed.

In addition, researchers say it is still possible that the SARS virus is still circulating in animals and may cross again into humans when conditions are favorable.

Caution Urged

"This is not the time to relax our vigilance. The world must remain on high alert for cases of SARS," says Brundtland. "To answer these and other questions, research into SARS must continue. Scientific evidence will be crucial for our ability to best handle another SARS outbreak should there be one."

The WHO has lifted all of its SARS-related travel restrictions, but urges international travelers to be aware of the main symptoms of SARS:

  • High fever over 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit
  • and
  • Dry cough, shortness of breath, or breathing difficulties

People who experience these symptoms within 10 days of travel to areas that have experienced a recent outbreak of SARS are advised to seek medical attention.

On July 3, the CDC also lifted its SARS travel alert for mainland China, although an alert remains in effect for Beijing. The CDC's travel alert does not advise against travel to Beijing, but advises travelers of the potential risk of SARS and recommends that they take precautions to reduce their risk.

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