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SARS conference set this week in Toronto

Canadian health officials report new death from illness

A poster in Toronto's airport warns about the threat of SARS.
A poster in Toronto's airport warns about the threat of SARS.

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TORONTO, Ontario (CNN) -- Canada said Sunday that it will play host to an international conference on SARS this week in Toronto, where health officials reported the 21st death from the illness.

A 79-year-old woman died of severe acute respiratory syndrome late Saturday, the government health department said. She was the fifth person in Canada reported to have been killed by SARS in three days, but health authorities had warned that the death toll could rise as elderly or infirm patients succumb to the illness.

Toronto is the epicenter of the biggest SARS outbreak outside of Asia, where the illness was first reported. More than 250 probable or suspected cases have been reported in the Toronto area, including all 21 deaths in Canada. More than half of the victims have made a full recovery.

The SARS conference scheduled for Wednesday and Thursday will discuss ways of treating the illness and preventing its spread, said Farah Mohamed, a spokeswoman for Health Minister Anne McLellan.

"It will be a meeting of international experts, and the focus will be on the domestic situation here in Canada," Mohamed said.

By holding the conference in Toronto, Canadian officials hoped to show the World Health Organization that the city was a safe travel venue despite the SARS outbreak, which has been confined almost exclusively to hospitals treating SARS patients.

Meanwhile, Canadian health officials say the WHO has agreed to review early next week its travel advisory urging that all but essential travel to Toronto be delayed until the SARS outbreak has abated.

Dr. Colin D'Cunha, Ontario's chief medical officer of health, said he is optimistic that the advisory will be repealed.

"I need to stress that Toronto continues to be a safe place to visit," he said.

Concern over safety led the WHO to issue the advisory Wednesday, which led tourists to cancel planned trips to the area, provoked furor among politicians and is at odds with the recommendation of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.

D'Cunha said WHO officials offered Friday morning in a conference call to revisit the issue of the advisory.

In defending the advisory, Dr. Julie Hall, head of the WHO's global outbreak and alert response unit, had said Thursday that the advisory would remain in place until the area had gone three weeks with no new cases or new exports to other countries.

Ontario has been traced as the source of SARS cases in the United States, Australia and the Philippines, and the WHO is investigating a possible case spread to Bulgaria.

Data identify April 9 as the last day a case of community-acquired SARS was identified, D'Cunha said. Tuesday would represent 20 days since then -- equivalent to two 10-day incubation periods from time of exposure to onset of symptoms and just a day short of the three weeks sought by Hall.

All cases that have occurred in Canada since April 9 have been among health workers who were in contact with known cases, even though the health workers are typically equipped with face masks, goggles, double-thickness gloves and double-thickness gowns.

-- The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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