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China works to stop SARS outbreak

From CNN's Tara Duffy

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Beijing (China)
Health Organizations

BEIJING, China (CNN) -- China is screening thousands of travelers in an effort to block another outbreak of the SARS virus after the world's first suspected death from the disease this year.

The mother of a laboratory employee died on Monday. Her daughter is one of two people who work in the Center for Disease Control in Beijing the government has confirmed have the disease.

"When the daughter was ill, the mother accompanied her all the time," the Health Ministry said on its Web site.

The mother was hospitalized on April 8 with a fever and unidentified virus, the ministry said. It said she had a heart problem, though it wasn't clear whether that was related to her death.

A Beijing hospital nurse who treated the woman has been listed as a suspected case.

The death would be China's first from the virus since the outbreak last summer that killed more than 349 in the country's mainland. China reported its last SARS fatality in July.

SARS first emerged in southern China late 2002 and spread throughout the world, infecting around 8,000 people and killing over 770.

Since last July only four cases have been reported in China, all in the southern Guangdong province. All four patients recovered.

Two other scientists researching the mysterious disease in Taiwan and Singapore also contracted the disease. They also recovered and no other infections were reported.

The six cases have been the only confirmed infections since the World Health Organization declared the epidemic over last year.

Beijing was one of the cities hardest hit by the outbreak, and officials say the city's SARS research lab has been sealed off and hundreds of people are under observation.

"We believe that the government can respond to this," WHO spokeswoman Julie Hall said.

"The system is there. It has been developed. It has been tried and tested. While we can't prevent the occurrence of individual cases we certainly hope that given that the system is considerably stronger than it was before outbreaks of this disease can be prevented."

Last year China was criticized for the way it handled public information about SARS. This time around, it is making sure the public is informed and aware of both confirmed and suspected cases.

Some Chinese, however, are not as concerned this time around.

"For myself, personally, I don't care about SARS. I don't think it's necessary to wear a mask," one man told CNN.

The latest cases come a week before the May 1st Labor Day holiday week when tens of millions of Chinese are expected to travel.

Last year the government was forced to cut the holiday short, and health officials are closely monitoring the situation before determining if such measures will be necessary again.

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