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WHO Visits China's Hebei Province Over SARS Outbreak - 2003-05-07

Four World Health Organization doctors are visiting China's Hebei province, where cases of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome doubled to more than 100 in the past week. The SARS outbreak in mainland China and Taiwan is still growing.

The World Health Organization said Wednesday its four doctors may be able to make a difference in curtailing Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome in China's Hebei province.

Over the past few days, more than one hundred people have become ill with SARS in Hebei.

The doctors will be accompanied by experts from China's Ministry of Health and will focus on the province's ability to identify, isolate and treat SARS patients.

Peter Cordingley, a WHO spokesman, said the agency also hopes learn more about how SARS travels from place to place. "We can't join up the dots between the outbreaks - we don't know how they started. We have numbers without any connectivity between them," he said.

Hebei is the source of many of Beijing's migrant workers. China fears this "floating population" will export the SARS outbreak from the capital to some of China's poorer regions.

The WHO trip to Hebei comes as Prime Minister Wen Jiabao was quoted in state-run media saying rural health care systems will face a struggle in coping with SARS. China has seen more than 100 new cases each day for weeks, and the United States has pledged medical and research support to help it contain the disease.

SARS has infected nearly 4,600 people in China, killing more than 200 of them.

In its latest move to stem the disease, Chinese officials say the pets of Beijing residents under quarantine will be isolated or killed. The health authorities are concerned that pets may carry the virus. Experts are looking at a link between pets and humans, but none has yet been discovered.

In Hong Kong, daily numbers of new infections have dropped into the single digits, but the daily death toll remains high. Hong Kong reported eight new cases and eleven deaths on Wednesday, bringing the death toll to 204. The territory has seen more than 1,600 cases.

Meanwhile, three more people died in Taiwan on Wednesday, bringing the toll to 14. More than 120 SARS cases have been reported there. The U.S. State Department on Tuesday warned Americans to avoid visiting the island.

Also on Tuesday, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control downgraded its travel warning for Singapore, which has Asia's third largest SARS outbreak with about 200 cases and 27 deaths. Strict quarantines appear to have helped contain the disease.