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WHO: Singapore's Flu-Like Outbreak not SARS Related - 2003-05-15

The World Health Organization says that an outbreak of a flu-like illness at a mental hospital in Singapore may be influenza and not Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome. The U.N. agency says it is increasingly worried about Taiwan, where the SARS outbreak has gone island-wide.

A team of World Health Organization researchers in Singapore said Thursday that patients and staff members from a mental hospital could be suffering from a flu and not Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, or SARS.

On Wednesday, the city-state braced itself for another SARS outbreak when 27 patients and 10 staff fell sick with fever and flu-like symptoms often associated with SARS.

Peter Cordingley is WHO's Manila-based spokesman. "I think that there was considerable fear yesterday that this was a SARS outbreak," he said. "Some of the information coming to us from Singapore suggests that the people might be suffering from influenza B."

Mr. Cordingley says that if the sick patients turn out not to be SARS victims, then Singapore is still on its way to ending its SARS outbreak.

Singapore, which has seen 28 deaths out of 205 cases of SARS, must have no new cases by May 18, 20 days after its last reported case, to be declared SARS-free.

The city-state has quarantined thousands of people over the past two months, closed schools and dedicated a medical center to SARS patients. These measures appear to have contained the disease, according to the WHO.

Mr. Cordingley says, however, that in Taiwan the outbreak is spreading and efforts to quarantine suspected cases and isolate known victims should be stepped up. "We're very worried about Taiwan now," said Mr. Cordingley. "There has to be early detection of people with SARS symptoms and isolation and quarantine. This is the only way to fix it. It seems that if this is spreading at the rate it has been in Taiwan, that more effort should be made."

The Mackay Memorial Hospital in Taipei became the third major hospital to report an outbreak in the past two days. On Wednesday, the Taiwan University Hospital and the Chang Gang Hospital in Kaohsiung reported fresh outbreaks.

Taiwan reported its biggest single-day jump on Thursday with 26 new cases, bringing the total to 264. Three more people died, taking the death toll above 30.

Hong Kong says it had five new cases on Thursday, in keeping with its lower infection rate, but reported seven more deaths, which brought its total to 234.

The city's outbreak is the world's second largest with more than 1,700 cases.

Worldwide, SARS has killed almost 600 people out of more than 7,600 sufferers.