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China: New suspected SARS case

Guangzhou officials have also launched a major disinfection campaign.
Guangzhou officials have also launched a major disinfection campaign.

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HONG KONG, China (CNN) -- As China's only confirmed SARS patient is declared recovered and released from hospital, state-run media have reported a new suspected case of the potentially deadly virus.

A 20-year-old waitress has been hospitalized and placed in isolation in Guangzhou in Guangdong province, Xinhua news agency reported Thursday.

Dozens of people in contact with the woman have also been placed in quarantine, the report said, but no one has yet showed any SARS symptoms.

Meanwhile in Hong Kong, three television reporters are being tested for SARS after displaying some symptoms of the virus upon returning from a visit to Guangdong, acting deputy director of health Regina Ching said.

Though the men have not yet been listed as suspected SARS cases, they have been placed in isolation wards and are in a stable condition, Ching said. They initially had fever, coughs and respiratory infections but chest X-rays were "normal and clear", Ching added.

More test results were expected later Thursday.

"The reporters went to some high risk areas in Guangzhou including hospitals and wild game markets as part of their work ... one individual was also believed to have consumed wild game," Ching told reporters.

In China, Thursday's announcement of a new suspected case was made shortly after Xinhua reported that a 32-year-old television producer -- China's first SARS patient in six months -- had been discharged from the same No. 8 People's Hospital in the city.

Though the man's infection sparked fears of a new outbreak of the still mysterious virus, none of his contacts displayed symptoms of the disease. Most have been released from quarantine

It is still unclear how he contracted SARS. He was hospitalized with pneumonia December 20 and treated as a suspected SARS case until World Health Organization laboratories were able to confirm the virus earlier this week.

However, both the confirmed and the suspected cases were in Guangdong -- the same Chinese province where SARS first emerged in late 2002 before spreading worldwide, infecting thousands and killing almost 800 people before subsiding last July.


Many countries have stepped up health screenings at entry points.
Many countries have stepped up health screenings at entry points.

As researchers work to understand the virus, scientific evidence of a possible link between SARS and animals from wildlife markets popular in the region has forced Guangdong authorities into a mass culling.

Thousands of civet cats -- considered a local delicacy -- are being slaughtered after researchers named the animal as the possible source of the virus before it jumped to humans.

The government says it wants the slaughter of 10,000 civets completed by Saturday, despite concerns from the WHO that the mass extermination could destroy evidence of the origins of the disease.

The culling is also something of an embarrassment for Chinese officials who last year outlawed the trade of civets for four months. But Beijing later rescinded the ban after pressure from consumers, farmers and sellers.

Additionally, Guangzhou officials have also launched a major disinfection campaign in a bid to head off a potential outbreak of SARS.

As well as street-cleaning, officials have ordered a large-scale rat extermination program.

The SARS case in China has forced much of Asia onto full alert, increasing health checks at transit and entry points such as airports and sea terminals.

Hong Kong, also hard hit in the outbreak earlier this year, has stepped up health monitoring at border crossings into mainland China.

The confirmed SARS case in China was the third since the WHO announced an end to the outbreak mid last year, but it is the first not involving medical researchers.

Scientists in Singapore and Taiwan contracted the virus in September and November respectively. Both were treated and discharged from hospital.

On Wednesday, health officials in the Philippines said a woman under isolation in a Manila hospital on suspicion of having SARS did not have the virus.

The woman's family -- a husband and three children -- were also under isolation, but have been removed from their quarantine. (Full story)

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