SARS UPDATES

BEIJING: 

  • A WHO team of five experts has been invited by the Beijing Health Bureau to visit health facilities and review the SARS situation in Beijing. The meetings, which began on Friday, will continue throughout next week. (http://www.who.int/csr/don/2003_04_12/en/)

  • Up to now, a total of 39 cases (4 deaths) have been reported. (BJ has a population of 12 million.)

CHINA: 

An Op-Ed Piece on SARS from New York Times (April 8)
Is Fear Spreading Faster Than SARS?
April 8, 2003  
By PHILIP BOWRING
HONG KONG
First there was denial, then a sluggish response - and now irrational fear out of proportion to the danger.

The denial was in China, where the disease appears to have originated, the sluggish response was by Hong Kong, and the fear has spread worldwide. Advisories from the World Health Organization, governments, airlines and trade fairs warning against traveling to Hong Kong and Guangdong have combined with intense news coverage to make the recent outbreak of SARS, or severe acute respiratory syndrome, seem more dramatic than it really is.

To be sure, there was reason for major concern when it was thought that this could be an unusually virulent and fatal form of pneumonia. Some concern is still justified, since the identity of the virus and the main methods of its transmission remain unknown.

The statistics of the disease, however, scarcely suggest the need for the restrictions being imposed on travelers, which are slowing trade and hurting tourism around East Asia. (Yesterday, Continental Airlines said it was suspending some flights to Hong Kong.) The disease is routinely described as "highly contagious." If it were, there would now be tens of thousand of sufferers in this crowded city of 6.8 million. But there have been only 883 cases, or one in 80,000. Most have been within three clusters - one housing block and two hospitals that treated early victims.

Even among the infected in Hong Kong, fewer than 15 percent have needed intensive care. The mortality rate has been around 4 percent, the norm here for pneumonia, which kills 2,000 to 3,000 people a year. The vast majority of the deaths have been elderly people and those with chronic illnesses. To warn against visiting Hong Kong and Guangdong seems curious when there are more widespread or virulent diseases like dengue fever and encephalitis in the Southeast Asian tourist havens of Thailand and Malaysia.

Disease threats make big stories, so the news media have focused on the day-to-day progress of the illness and tend to lose perspective. That is all the more reason for governments and the World Health Organization to keep a better balance between caution and spreading worry.

An obsession with risk not only creates disruption but also diverts attention from dealing with ever present health and safety issues that in human as well as statistical terms are far bigger threats to life.

Philip Bowring is a regular contributor to the International Herald Tribune.
http://www.nytimes.com/2003/04/08/opinion/08BOWR.html?ex=1050804744&ei=1&en=3acfcdda2f6133bf
Messages from members of the American Chamber of Commerce in Beijing and Hong Kong
Update from Hong Kong on SARS
Jane Liedtke <janeliedtke@yahoo.com>
As a member of the American Chamber of Commerce in Beijing I receive many notices about business community issues. Of course SARS has been one of those issues. Recently the Hong Kong American Chamber of Commerce met with authorities about SARS and below you have the information they have received. I find it to be very enlightening and informative at a time when media hype is rampant and people are in a complete and total panic over coming to China. I hope you will read through the information and share it with others. Concern is important, logic and sensibilities are also important at a time like this. Cases in Guangdong are reportedly down according to the WHO physician who was interviewed live on air today and they are please with how things are being handled there. 
Thanks so much, 
Jane in Beijing
SARS - Atypical Pneumonia Update
AmCham-Hong Kong representatives just attended an International Business Committee meeting chaired by the Chief Secretary. He advised us that resolution of this problem is HKG's number one priority. Dr. Margaret Chan gave an excellent presentation on SARS. She reviewed the cronology of events, statistics, symptoms, linkages with other areas, measures taken by the Department of Health and World Health Organization, prevention and treatment.

The HKG will forward a soft copy of the presentation to all attendees for further dissemination as appropriate. Some of the key points:

  • low case fatality - of 734 total cases in HK there have been 17 deaths or 2.3% of the total, as compared to a usual rate of 10 to 15% for this type of problem
  • of the 17 SARS related deaths in Hong Kong, 65% were over age 65 and 82% were already suffering from chronic illness
  • of the 17 deaths only 3 had no medical complications, however, these were patients who delayed coming in for treatment
  • early treatment is imperative - if unattended 8 days the problem can take a sharp turn for the worse
  • the majority of cases were hospital workers, families and patients with close contacts, however, sporadic cases represent about 20% of the total
  • the treatment that has been developed is effective
  •  the epidemic curve suggests that SARS cases in HK are coming down and are under control
  •  HKG has been completely transparent and is working closely with the WHO
  •  casual contact with people, such as at fairs or luncheons, is not a risk

Facts:

  • outbreak was caused by a new virus
  • close contact with a victim is required for transmission
  • no evidence at this time of airborne transmission
  • incubation is 2 to 7 days, up to 10 days
  • healthcare workers and family members are at higher risk

Prevention:

  •  if you do not feel well or have a cold WEAR A SURGICAL MASK!
  • do not shake hands, touch your face, rub your eyes or give a "hugging" kiss
  •  do not keep the office or home too cold - at higher temperature the virus is less active (warm weather will kill the virus)
  •  wash your hands frequently
  • diluted household bleach will kill the virus wider community.

Progress:

  • community education has been strengthened to increase public awareness of the disease, the symptoms and ways of prevention
  • disease surveillance system and public health control measures SARS are in place
  •  rapid diagnostic test for patients in the early stage of illness is now available
  • there is treatment for the disease, and the vast majority of patients can recover

Key messages from the Department of Health:

  • HONG KONG IS SAFE FOR LOCAL RESIDENTS AS WELL AS VISITORS
  • HONG KONG HAS HIGH QUALITY MEDICAL AND PUBLIC HEALTH SERVICES
  • TRAVELLERS SHOULD BE AWARE OF THE SYMPTOMS OF THE DISEASE AND PERSONS WITH THOSE SYMPTOMS SHOULD NOT TRAVEL UNTIL THEY HAVE RECOVERED
Frank Martin,
President American Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong
1904 Bank of America Tower 12 Harcourt Road, Central Hong Kong, SAR
Tel: (852) 2530-6912, Fax: (852) 2810-1289

Last Updated: April 13, 2003  10:30 (Beijing Time)