17 May 2003
Epidemiologists meeting at the World Health Organization, WHO, say the SARS epidemic is coming to an end in most places around the world. The big exception is mainland China. Experts from around the world participated in a two-day conference in Geneva to report on measures to combat the fatal pneumonia-like disease.
The scientists attending the meeting say there is a striking similarity in the pattern of SARS outbreaks throughout the world. They also note that similar health measures are successfully controlling the disease in different places, what seems to be working in one place also works in another.
Coordinator of WHO's Global Alert and Response Program, Mike Ryan, calls this reassuring. He says countries that have not been affected by SARS can learn from this experience and take heart. "In country after country, we have managed to break the cycle of transmission through the simple implementation of good case finding, contact tracing and isolation practices in hospitals," he said. "This has been the key factor. We have seen the number of secondary cases per case dropping systematically in all of the countries to the point where we believe in the majority of cases we are now seeing the epidemics coming to an end."
The only exception, Mr. Ryan says, is in mainland China. He says China, which has registered the largest number of SARS deaths in the world, still has a difficult situation to face. He says the problem of SARS is not more complex in China, but simply bigger.
The World Health Organization has just issued another SARS-related travel advisory recommending that people postpone all but essential travel to Hebei province which lies just to the south of Beijing. Hebei becomes the eighth area of China to fall under a WHO travel ban.
Another expert, Arlene King of Health Canada says the major mode of transmission is from human to human. She says there is no truth to rumors which claim SARS can be spread from animals.
The experts say it could be a full year before the scientific community knows whether SARS can be eradicated, or whether it will become a recurring world illness.