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China Confirms 2 New Cases of SARS - 2004-04-23

Two people in China have been confirmed to have Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome - a disease that emerged in 2002 and infected about 8,000 people. Chinese health authorities say more suspected SARS cases could be identified in coming days.

A 20-year-old Beijing nurse and a student from Anhui Province, who recently returned from Beijing, tested positive for the disease after being hospitalized with symptoms of pneumonia. Health authorities say two other suspected cases have been found, one of whom died a few days ago.

The nurses' doctor, Guo Limin, spoke to reporters on Friday. Dr. Guo says the nurse is in stable condition and would likely be discharged in a few days. Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome emerged in late 2002 and created global concern when it infected almost 8,000 people around the world in a matter of months. More than 700 SARS patients died.

The outbreak faded last June, and until Friday, only five other cases had been reported. Scientists believe they were isolated - two of the victims probably became infected through their work in laboratories studying the virus.

Some scientists say three SARS patients detected early this year in southern China might have caught it from wild animals or rodents.

Peter Cordingley, a World Health Organization spokesman in Manila, says China has been quick to detect and report the latest cases.

He says, however, the announcement is a surprise because scientists had thought the disease would not strike at this time of year, when the weather is warmer in the Northern Hemisphere. Many viruses, such as influenza, tend to spread in colder weather.

"I think it's fair to say it's caught everybody by surprise," he admitted. "Precautions were being lowered, everyone thought the likely season for SARS was over. This is another thing we've learnt I guess that there is no such thing as a likely season."

When the disease first appeared in China's Guangdong Province, health officials suppressed information on the outbreak. For several months, officials and doctors failed to report the full extent of the disease's spread to the World Health Organization.

It was not until SARS reached Hong Kong and gained international news coverage in March and April last year - that China's health authorities became more open. They have since pledged to report all new cases as they emerge.