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HEALTH REPORT – SARS in China - 2004-05-05

Broadcast May 5, 2004

This is Phoebe Zimmermann with the VOA Special English Health Report.

China has been dealing recently with new cases of the lung disease SARS. SARS is severe acute respiratory syndrome. Chinese officials reported a small number of cases as of last week. All were linked to employees of a disease control laboratory in Beijing or people close to them.

Last Friday the Health Ministry confirmed the first death from SARS since last year. The victim was a woman who died in late April in the eastern province of Anhui. She was the mother of a student researcher who became infected at the laboratory and traveled home to Anhui.

Officials are keeping hundreds of people away from others to observe them for signs of SARS. Last Friday tens of millions of Chinese began to travel for a week-long May Day holiday. Officials were at airports and train stations to watch for sick travelers.

New research shows that the SARS virus can travel through the air. Scientists from Hong Kong reported their findings in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Last year, in Hong Kong, more than three-hundred people got SARS in the Amoy Gardens housing project. Experts were not sure how the infection spread from building to building. A team of researchers decided to use computers to recreate conditions there. Ignatius Yu from Chinese University of Hong Kong led the team.

The study centered on the buildings where the first one-hundred-eighty-seven cases of SARS were reported. The team connected the position of where each person lived with information about airflow in and around the buildings.

They say the virus first began to spread in March of last year when a visitor used a toilet in one of the buildings. This person was sick from SARS. The bathroom with the toilet had an exhaust fan for airflow.

Investigators from the World Health Organization later examined the pipes in the bathroom. They found conditions that could have permitted the fan to pull the virus up into the air system of the building. The researchers who did the new study say wind then carried the virus to other buildings. The virus traveled on drops of water so small they could not be seen.

Experts say SARS began in mainland China in November two-thousand-two. It infected eight-thousand people worldwide last year. Seven-hundred-seventy-four deaths were reported.

This VOA Special English Health Report was written by Jerilyn Watson. I’m Phoebe Zimmermann.