WHO: Big SARS outbreak unlikely in Guangdong

The World Health Organization (WHO) China office said Friday in Beijing that the second suspected SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) case reported in south China's Guangdong Province should be taken seriously, and further laboratory tests should be performed.

"Working from the incomplete data we have, it seems to us that there is sufficient evidence to indicate that further laboratory tests should be performed, and that this case should be taken seriously," the WHO China office said in a press release Friday night.

The government of Guangdong Thursday reported that the patient, a 20-year-old waitress working at a restaurant in the provincial capital, Guangzhou,is now in a stable situation, and all the 100 people including 48 with close contact with her and 52 with normal contact have shown no SARS symptoms.

"We still do not have full data (about the results of the tests conducted on the suspect SARS patient), but have requested it," said the WHO office. The office said that it has recommended that a full set of samples from the patient be sent to China's national reference laboratories in Beijing, and, simultaneously, another set be sent to one of WHO's International SARS Reference Laboratory Network facilities, according to the press release.

"As with all SARS-related testing, we must ensure throughout the testing process that contamination of the samples used in the PCR tests is excluded, and that any positive findings from the antibody tests have not been the result of cross-reaction with other corona viruses," said the WHO China office.

As for the possible public panic over a big SARS outbreak in Guangzhou, the office said that it didn't see a significant public health threat from SARS. "While the WHO does not want to downplay the seriousness of the situation in Guangzhou or Guangdong Province or the rest of China, we hasten to point out that so far there has only been one confirmed case and one suspected case of SARS this time in a nation of more than 1.3 billion people," it said.

The office added that experience last year showed that the SARS epidemic can be contained and controlled if cases are quickly identified and isolated, and if proper infection control measures are maintained in hospitals.

"China's health care system, and much of the rest of the world's, is on high alert to identify people with SARS-like illnesses. The WHO and China will continue to closely monitor the situation in Guangdong and across the country. But for now, we do not see a significant public health threat from SARS," the office said.

The WHO also gave a high affirmation of Guangdong's handling of the situation: "Guangdong has done a good job in dealing with these cases epidemiologically, and is to be commended for the conscientiousness with which they are dealing with the situation."

A 10-member joint experts' team from the WHO and the Chinese Health Ministry arrived in Guangzhou Thursday night to investigate the possible origin of the SARS virus. The team is expected to stay there for about one week.

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