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Vietnam Free of New SARS Cases - 2003-04-28


Vietnam may be the first country to halt the spread of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome. International health experts say the country has not seen any new SARS infections in 20 days. A decision by doctors and nurses to seal the hospital where the outbreak began helped contain the disease.

The World Health Organization on Monday congratulated Hanoi after the government announced Vietnam to be free of new Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome cases. Sixty-three people contracted the disease in Vietnam, five of whom died. About five SARS patients are still being treated.

The country has now gone 20 days without any new cases of SARS, double the incubation period for the virus. The World Health Organization (WHO) says Vietnam has "been able to show the world" that SARS can be contained.

WHO's spokesman in Asia, Peter Cordingley, said doctors and government officials moved swiftly to contain the disease after it first appeared in Hanoi's French Hospital in early March. "It was a great effort inside the hospital but also the government instantly understood the magnitude of what they were looking at and reacted very quickly," he said. "It wasn't an awful lot that WHO had to do to get things happening."

Vietnam's outbreak can be traced to a Chinese American businessman who was admitted to the French Hospital after visiting Hong Kong. Several hospital workers became infected with the illness, including a WHO doctor, Carlo Urbani, who later died of the disease.

Mr. Cordingley says the staff in the hospital sealed themselves into the building in an effort to contain the SARS outbreak. Four medical workers were among those who died of the disease.

The U.N. agency is now considering lifting a travel advisory warning visitors to avoid Hanoi. WHO, however, warned earlier that infected people from other countries visiting Vietnam could spark another outbreak. Vietnam borders China, which has more than 3,100 SARS cases.

Governments across Asia have become more aggressive in trying to intercept SARS. Beijing has quarantined more than seven thousand residents. Malaysia has sealed off a hospital where the disease may have broken out, while Singapore threatens harsh punishments to anyone breaking isolation orders.

The illness, which causes a potentially deadly pneumonia, has infected about 4,900 people in at least 26 countries, killing more than 300.

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