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Researchers Say Plumbing Helped Spread of SARS in Hong Kong - 2003-04-17


Researchers have concluded that plumbing in a Hong Kong high-rise helped spread Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome to hundreds of people. Hong Kong officials blame faulty pipes for the high number of cases of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome in one apartment high-rise.

Secretary for Health Yeoh Eng-kiong says most residents in the Amoy Gardens complex probably picked up the virus in their bathrooms, that large amounts of human waste carrying the virus went into the sewage system and leaked into apartments connected by toilet pipes.

Investigations also revealed that cockroaches in the building carried the virus. But scientists say it is unlikely they transmitted the disease. The government launched a massive investigation when the severe, flu-like disease sickened 320 Amoy Gardens residents. SARS has infected 1,297 people, and killed 65 in Hong Kong. International health experts were particularly eager to understand why the disease spread so rapidly in one building. They also wanted to know if the scenario was likely to be repeated elsewhere.

Hong Kong officials say it appears the spread of SARS in Amoy Gardens was unique to the building, but warned landlords to check pipes regularly for problems.

Health experts also are trying to understand why Amoy Gardens residents have been sicker than other SARS patients.

Doctors report the residents are not responding as well to the anti-viral drugs and steroids that have been effective in about 80 percent of patients. Two-thirds of the building's residents also reported diarrhea as one of their initial symptoms of SARS.

Scientists speculate the group could have contracted a more virulent form of the disease, or picked up a secondary infection in the building.

Experts are alarmed that during the past few days, relatively young adults with no other medical problems have died from SARS in Hong Kong. The disease is fatal in roughly four percent of patients, but has mainly claimed the lives of those who are already sick or elderly.

Elsewhere in Asia, a hospital in India isolated a patient with atypical pneumonia, which is associated with SARS.

Doctors said they would run more diagnostic tests to confirm if the patient has SARS. The patient apparently had visited Hong Kong recently.

Worldwide, more than 3,300 cases of SARS have emerged in more than 22 countries. At least 160 people have died.