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Health expert to aid China in possible SARS case

SARS first emerged in Guangdong, with evidence suggesting it jumped from animals to humans.
SARS first emerged in Guangdong, with evidence suggesting it jumped from animals to humans.

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BEIJING, China (CNN) -- An expert with the World Health Organization will travel to Beijing on Monday to help Chinese authorities identify what may be the nation's first case of SARS in months, a spokesman for the health group said.

A battery of tests have left it unclear whether a 32-year-old man in the Guangdong Province has the contagious severe acute respiratory syndrome, spokesman Roy Wadia said Sunday.

The suspect case would be the first to emerge in China since SARS patients were discharged from a Beijing hospital last summer.

The WHO expert en route to the region will help sift through the test results in hopes of reaching a conclusion, Wadia said.

Unlike influenza, SARS has no known treatment. The National Institutes of Health is working on a vaccine, but none is ready.

In this year's outbreak, SARS spread to more than 8,000 people in more than two dozen countries in North America, South America, Europe and Asia. It then seemed to stop spreading, for reasons health officials could not explain. WHO declared the outbreak over in July.

Symptoms can include a high fever, chills, headache, general feeling of discomfort and body aches.

Patients may develop a dry, nonproductive cough and pneumonia. Some require ventilation.

WHO officials based in the Chinese capital already are working with Chinese officials on the matter, Wadia said from Beijing.

"We are extremely pleased with what the Chinese Health Ministry is giving us," he said.

The suspected case is that of a Chinese freelance television producer who came down with a fever December 16 and was hospitalized December 20. He was not classified as a suspect SARS case until Friday, the Health Ministry said. Guangdong is the province where the disease was first recognized in February.

Chinese health officials have tested people with whom the man came into contact, and none was found to be infected, the Health Ministry said.

Last month, the Singapore Health Ministry ordered 70 people quarantined to their homes after coming into contact with a Taiwanese researcher who was infected while conducting research on the virus. The 70 were monitored, but no SARS cases were found among them.

In September, U.S. health officials said they were preparing for another possible outbreak of SARS.

"As an infectious disease expert, I've never seen a pathogen emerge and go away on its own," Dr. Julie Gerberding, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said in the fall.

"We have to expect that sometime, somewhere this virus is going to rear its ugly head again."


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