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Archive for Sunday, March 30, 2003

Mystery illness infects hundreds

WHO doctor who identified disease among its victims

March 30, 2003

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— Fear gripped Hong Kong as the number of people suffering from a deadly flu-like disease increased sharply Saturday. Thousands of people donned surgical masks but many more refused to venture out and activity in the usually bustling city ground to a halt.

Also, the first doctor to realize that the world was dealing with an unfamiliar disease died of the illness Saturday in Thailand. Italian Dr. Carlo Urbani, 46, a World Health Organization expert on communicable diseases, became infected while working in Vietnam, where he diagnosed an American businessman hospitalized in Hanoi, Vietnam, the U.N. agency said. The businessman later died.

Since then severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, has claimed more than 50 lives around the world and sickened almost 1,500 people, mostly in Asia. There were 59 cases of SARS in the United States and at least 35 in Canada, where three people have died.

On Saturday, Hong Kong reported 45 new cases and another death -- an 82-year-old man whose health was poor before he became infected. SARS now has killed 12 people in Hong Kong and sickened 470.

Figures released late Friday showed 58 new cases, Hong Kong's biggest one-day increase since the WHO issued a global health alert this month. There were 51 a day earlier.

Many of the new cases involved residents of a single apartment complex; health officials are unsure why.


Worldwide, the biggest numbers of cases and deaths have been in China's Guangdong province, where an earlier outbreak began in November.

On Saturday, thousands of Hong Kong residents were wearing surgical masks around town, but many were not going around at all, slowing down an already feeble economy.

Taxi stands where people normally line up during rush hour had few customers in sight. Schools were closed, and the Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corp., the biggest lender in town, shut part of a floor in its main office Saturday because a worker became sick.

The Bank of China also closed a branch Saturday for a thorough cleaning after a staff member fell ill. Several other companies have done the same.

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