Countries in Asia began taking more steps this week to block the spread of a deadly flu-like illness blamed for at least 53 deaths worldwide.
Health officials in Asia are acting aggressively to contain a pneumonia-like illness that has affected hundreds of people worldwide. In Hong Kong, officials announced (Thursday) they would close schools for one week. They also ordered a ten-day quarantine of more than a thousand people who had close contact with victims of the disease.
Dr. Yeoh Eng-Kiong, Hong Kong Secretary of Health, says the quarantine is a precaution.
DR. YEOH ENG-KIONG, HONG KONG SECRETARY OF HEALTH
“If they are infected to reduce any possible risk of their coming into contact with other individuals and spreading the infection.”
The move comes one day after Singapore closed all schools for a week and a half and imposed a similar quarantine.
Back in Hong Kong thousands of people like in other Asian cities are wearing surgical masks while walking around town. Regional health departments have advised people with flu-like symptoms to wear the masks so they will not affect others.
The disease, known as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, or SARS, has infected more than 1,300 people in mostly Asian countries. The virus is believed to have originated in southern China.
Scientists in Hong Kong say they have found the virus behind the illness.
Malik Peiris, a Hong Kong University microbiologist, says it can survive in open air for a few hours and is a microorganism responsible for the common cold.
MALIK PEIRIS, MICROBIOLOGIST, HONG KONG UNIVERSITY
“It is possible of course that other viruses might also infect the same patient and might increase the severity of the disease alright. And that needs to be investigated further.”
Hong Kong scientists say they have developed a test that will allow doctors to tell within eight hours if anyone is suffering from the disease. They say testing people sooner could help to slow or even stop a wider outbreak of the flu-like illness.