China Reports SARS Death Caused by Lab Leak
4 Suspected SARS Cases Under Investigation in China
April 23, 2004 -- Chinese health officials have confirmed four
suspected cases of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), including one
death, which appear to have been caused by a safety breach at a laboratory
studying the SARS virus.
It's the first SARS death reported since the World Health
Organization (WHO) declared the initial SARS outbreak more than nearly a year
ago. From November 2002 until July 2003, the newly discovered respiratory
disease sickened more than 8,000 people in 29 countries and killed nearly
The Chinese Ministry of Health says they have clinical
confirmation of SARS coronavirus infection in two of the four suspected SARS
cases. They are a 20-year-old nurse in Bejing who is currently in intensive
care and a 26-year-old female laboratory researcher from Anhui Province.
If confirmed by an independent international reference lab,
this would be the third outbreak of SARS to be traced back to inadequate
laboratory safety procedures. Two cases of SARS have been reported in
laboratory workers in Singapore and Taiwan since the first outbreak ended.
Outbreak Tied to SARS Lab in Beijing
Officials say the researcher worked at the Chinese National
Institute of Virology in Beijing, which is part of China's Center for Disease
Control, for two weeks in March. This institute is known to be conducting
research involving the SARS coronavirus.
The researcher became ill on March 25 and was cared for by the
20-year-old nurse and her mother. The mother became ill with symptoms
consistent with SARS on April 8 and died on April 19.
The fourth suspected SARS case is a 31-year-old laboratory
researcher who also worked at the same Beijing institute. He developed symptoms
of SARS on April 17 and was hospitalized in isolation on April 22.
Further laboratory testing on the two unconfirmed SARS cases
are being conducted by Chinese authorities, according to the WHO.
The Geneva-based U.N. agency says it's working closely with
Chinese health officials to confirm the status and full extent of this cluster
of SARS cases to prevent further spread of the disease.
The WHO says the situation is considered "potentially
serious because of the multiple opportunities for exposures." To date, more
than 300 contacts have been identified and placed under medical observation in
The CDC says it's monitoring the evolving situation in China
and will provide updates on its web site as information becomes available.