Hong Kong, March 30: The Italian physician who first recognised that the world was facing an outbreak of a mysterious pneumonia-like illness died yesterday in Vietnam, victim of the inadequate medical procedures in place before the disease’s severity was recognised.
The disease — called severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS — meanwhile continued its spread around the world, with 58 new cases in Hong Kong alone, some of them among residents of a single floor in a Hong Kong apartment building.
Public health authorities in Singapore expanded an existing quarantine to more than 1,500 people. Canada closed a second hospital where health care workers had been exposed to the virus.
The World Health Organisation urged the most heavily afflicted countries to begin screening departing airline passengers for symptoms of the illness. And the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention expanded its warning against unnecessary travel to Singapore and all of China, in addition to Hong Kong and Vietnam.
The WHO said there were 1,553 suspected cases in 13 countries and 54 deaths. China remained the most heavily affected with 806 cases, followed by Hong Kong with 470, Singapore with 89 and Vietnam with 58. The US had 62 suspected cases, but there have been no deaths yet. Canada had 37 probable cases and 36 more suspected cases, with three deaths to date.
“Our biggest unknown is what is going on in China,” which has been very closemouthed about epidemic-related events, said Dr. Julie Gerberding, director of the CDC. “We’re desperate to learn more about the scope and magnitude of the problem there.”
On Wednesday, China revealed it had had more than 800 cases of SARS and 34 deaths, well beyond the 300 cases and five deaths it originally reported. Chinese officials said they would begin making daily case counts and fatalities available to health agencies electronically but that it would take several days to bring the system online.
The most recent fatality from the disease was Dr. Carlo Urbani, 46, an expert on communicable diseases who had worked in WHO health programs in Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam. Urbani diagnosed the illness in an American businessman who had been admitted to a hospital in Hanoi, Vietnam. The businessman subsequently died.
Because authorities did not realise initially that they were dealing with such an infectious illness, few precautions against its spread were in place, and 56 per cent of the health workers who came in contact with the businessman developed SARS — accounting for nearly half the cases in that country.
Because of Urbani’s early efforts, WHO said global surveillance was heightened and many new cases were identified and isolated before they could infect other hospital staff.