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No quick end to SARS - WHO

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Passengers on a Hong Kong train take precautions against SARS.

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There's disagreement in China about the number of people killed or infected by SARS, some doctors say the government has understated fatalities.
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In Washington, top U.S. SARS doctors tell lawmakers about steps they're taking to fight the spread of the mysterious illness. CNN's Elizabeth Cohen reports.
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BEIJING, China (CNN) -- Doctors from the World Health Organization say they are not optimistic about a quick eradication of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS).

Dr. Henk Bekedam, a WHO representative in China, told reporters Wednesday: "SARS will be with us for the time being ... We still have a lot to do. We need to find the cause. We have to look at the treatment."

Bekedam told reporters that while he thinks health officials are getting a lot closer in learning how to prevent the disease, the key of the moment "is how to contain it."

Expert health officials spent six days in Guangdong Province, which is considered to be the epicenter of the disease. The first SARS case was reported in Guangdong Province last November.

While there, the doctors spoke to local health officials, visited hospitals and spent time with SARS patients.

CNN's Steven Jiang reports that health officials have been looking at various theories on how the disease is contracted and spread.

Jiang says one focus is on the type of patient health officials are calling the "super spreader" -- a person who is highly infectious, capable of infecting significantly more people than most other patients.

Health officials told reporters about a patient in China who affected more than a dozen health officials who treated him.

A second theory health officials are looking into is whether SARS is actually a combination of viruses.

Yet another theory has health officials looking into any link between SARS and the coronavirus family, which is typically found in animals.

China on Thursday said its death toll from SARS has risen by two to 55, and the total number of people infected stands at 1,290.

The international community has criticized the Chinese government during the past few months for their alleged cover-up of SARS, saying it should have reported the situation in Guangdong to the rest of the world sooner.

Hong Kong has been the region hardest hit by SARS outside of the Chinese mainland. The disease has infected at least 970 people there, killing 27, out of a total of more than 2,600 cases worldwide that have claimed at least 106 deaths.

Hong Kong authorities were closely monitoring 30 cases of the mystery illness at a Kowloon Bay housing estate, the Lower Ngau Tau Kok apartments, which house around 10,000 residents.

The Lower Ngau Tau Kok cases have prompted authorities to add cockroaches to the list of suspected spreaders of the disease. Cats, rats and leaky sewage systems are also under investigation.

In other developments:

Thailand has introduced tough SARS measures for all arrivals.
Thailand has introduced tough SARS measures for all arrivals.

• In Canada, Chinese-Canadians reported they were being discriminated against by those in fear of the virus. At least 226 people have been infected there, with 10 reported SARS deaths.

• The Roman Catholic church in Singapore has suspended confessions due to the SARS spread. The city-state has the world's fourth highest number of confirmed cases (118) and nine deaths. The military is now being used to help fight the spread of the disease while Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong said SARS would hit economic growth by up to one percent. (Military call-up)

• The SARS outbreak continued to hit the travel and tourism industry. Australian carrier Qantas announced on Wednesday it would shed 1,400 staff due to a fall in passenger numbers from both the war in Iraq and the SARS disease. (Qantas cuts)

• A 62-year-old South African man is being treated at a Pretoria hospital as a "probable SARS" case, according to officials involved in the case. (Full story)

• Malaysia has stopped issuing entry visas to most Chinese travelers to curb SARS, the Associated Press reported on Wednesday. Malaysia has reported one fatal case of the illness.

• Taiwan has again hit out at the WHO's failure to allow experts monitor the SARS outbreak on the island. The WHO, like the U.N., does not recognize the island. Taipei also criticized Beijing for not allowing the WHO to work with Taiwanese authorities. Taiwan argues a lack of assistance has hindered efforts to control the virus there. There were 20 suspected SARS cases in Taiwan as of Wednesday but no deaths have been recorded.

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