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Hong Kong Leader Admits Failings in SARS Battle - 2003-04-18

Hong Kong's leader says his administration could have acted differently to stem the spread of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, the deadly, flu-like disease known as SARS. His comments came as the city undergoes a territory-wide scrubbing it hopes will eliminate the virus.

He did not say what Hong Kong might have done, but appealed to residents to help the government as it begins a huge public campaign to improve hygiene in thousands of high-rise housing buildings.

In particular, Mr. Tung called for the eradication of what he termed "black-spots" or places where leaking sewage and discarded refuse have gone unchecked.

Local television flashed pictures of dripping pipes, clogged drains and rotting food in many of the city's most crowded areas, highlighting the fact that the city-wide cleaning may take some time.

The clean up started a day after investigators found that faulty pipes spread the SARS virus to hundreds of residents in the Amoy Gardens apartment complex.

Tracy Treadwell, an epidemiologist from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control who visited Amoy Gardens, explains how one SARS victim shed virus that then traveled vertically from one toilet to another via the building's pipes. "This first individual, this man from Shenzhen had massive diarrhea," she said. "The toilet was flushed and the 'U' joint did not have any water in it to equalize the pressure. Then it basically pulled up the fumes and with that some droplets that contained viral particles."

She adds that the virus appears to be a lot stronger than other pathogens, such as cholera, and can remain active in human waste or sewage pipes for more than four hours.

Hong Kong has had 1,027 SARS cases and almost 70 deaths from the disease.

Meanwhile, the World Health Organization on Friday said hospitals in Australia and Mongolia were each monitoring their first three suspected SARS cases.

The U.N. agency reports 3,389 cases and 165 deaths in more than 20 countries.

The SARS virus generally causes atypical pneumonia and is deadly in roughly five percent of patients.