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HEALTH REPORT - SARS - 2004-01-14

Broadcast: January 14, 2004

This is the VOA Special English Health Report.

Last week, health workers in China began to kill thousands of animals in an effort to prevent the spread of SARS. Severe acute respiratory syndrome killed more than seven-hundred-seventy people around the world last year.

Last week, tests confirmed that a man in Guangdong province had the first new case of SARS in China. The thirty-two-year-old television producer was treated and released from a hospital.

The tests showed he had a virus similar to one found in civets. Yet Chinese media reported that the man had not eaten a civet. Civets are related to the mongoose and are a popular food in southern China during the winter.

Researchers think activities such as killing or handling infected animals is a likely way to spread the virus from animals to people. The World Health Organization warned of just such a danger from health workers killing the civets. The United Nations agency also warned that such action could destroy important information about the disease.

SARS first appeared in Guangdong in November of two-thousand-two. It infected more than one-thousand-five-hundred people there. The lung disease killed about three-hundred-fifty people in China. Travelers spread SARS to nearly thirty countries. Eight-thousand people were infected by the middle of last year when the last cases appeared.

Since then, public health officials have been warning that the disease could return. Researchers have been working to develop tests for the virus and a vaccine to prevent it.

A report published recently in the Journal of the American Medical Association discusses what was learned from the first SARS outbreak. Researchers say keeping people with signs of the disease away from the healthy population was effective in stopping the spread.

The researchers say people who live with those suspected of SARS should also be quarantined until health workers are sure it is safe. Other ways to stop the spread of SARS include having health workers wear protective clothing and masks.

Scientists also reported that the drug interferon appeared to improve the ability of steroid medicines to reduce the effects of SARS.

In Guangdong, officials announced a health campaign to kill rats and cockroaches so the province would be clean for the Lunar New Year. The Chinese New Year begins January twenty-second.

This VOA Special English Health Report was written by Nancy Steinbach.