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SARS Shows No Signs of Subsiding, say Health Officials - 2003-04-08

Hong Kong continues to be the center of a global health emergency as the outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome shows no sign of subsiding. As new suspected SARS cases also are being discovered in Vietnam and Singapore, governments around Asia are preparing for outbreaks and updating quarantine laws.

Despite imposing quarantines and suspending schools, Hong Kong continues to see dozens of new cases of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome a day.

The government reported 45 new cases, bringing the total to 928. The death toll rose by two to 25.

Workers dressed in protective suits began cleaning a Hong Kong residential complex. The complex's Block E is home to one-fourth of the city's SARS patients.

Hong Kong health official Dr. Lui Shao-haei said the disease may be spreading through the sewage system. "One of the major factors for the spread of the disease is environmental contamination, so we need to clean up Block E," Dr. Lui said.

The residential tower stands empty these days. Sick residents have been hospitalized and the remaining residents have been quarantined in a rural camp.

Doctors have said SARS, which causes a serious and sometimes deadly pneumonia, spreads by droplets of saliva or mucus.

But the rapid spread of SARS in the Hong Kong high-rise has caused experts to consider other modes of transmission, such sewage, or rodents and cockroaches.

The World Health Organization said that in the five months since SARS appeared in China's southern Guangdong province, it has spread to more than a dozen countries. About 2,600 people have become infected worldwide, and at least 100 have died.

China reports a total of 1,268 cases and more than 50 deaths. But according to some reports, doctors are overwhelmed with SARS patients and a number of hospitals appear to have closed wards or shut down entirely. WHO reported "considerable anxiety" in the expatriate community after a Finnish man died of SARS in China a few days ago.

WHO has warned Vietnam's health authorities that new SARS infections are likely in coming days, dashing hopes the outbreak there had ended. The United Nations has confirmed that a provincial hospital is treating four suspected cases.

Singapore's Ministry of Health also has reported 29 new suspected SARS cases among the staff at a hospital.

In Australia, the government has added SARS to a list of diseases for which exposed persons be quarantined.

U.S. military officials are preparing for the possibility of an outbreak among the tens of thousands of troops stationed in Asia. Most U.S. military personal have been banned from visiting Hong Kong and southern China.