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SARS Claims 12 Lives in Hong Kong - 2003-04-19

Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, the mysterious new disease that has sickened over 3,400 people around the world, has now claimed 12 lives in Hong Kong in a single day. Doctors are searching for new treatments in an effort to save hundreds of critical patients.

Hong Kong has seen its biggest jump yet in deaths from Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, the disease known as SARS. On Saturday, 12 people died of the virus, bringing the city's death toll to 81. Hong Kong has seen 30 or more new cases of SARS each day for the past week, stretching hospitals to the limit.

Faced with dwindling resources, Hong Kong researchers are desperately trying to treat SARS, which has struck more than 1,300 people here.

Doctors are administering higher doses of anti-viral drugs and steroids earlier on, in hopes that patients will recover faster, freeing up beds for new SARS victims.

The drug combination has been successful in 80 percent of patients.

However, hundreds remain in critical condition. The elderly and those weakened by other underlying diseases face the highest danger of dying.

Part of the battle is looking for ways to limit the damage from swelling in the lungs.

Dr. Yeoh Eng-kiong Hong Kong's health secretary. "Obviously, age is not something we can change," he said. "But we are now looking at whether treatment protocols can be modified. We have two approaches: One is, we are looking into how we can improve their immuno-regulatory function, so that the damage to the [lung] tissue is less; the other approach is to attack the virus directly. "

Dr. Yeoh says researchers in Hong Kong are testing other anti-viral drugs on lab animals infected with the coronavirus, the pathogen believed responsible for SARS.

He also said drugs developed to fight AIDS have been used on some critical SARS patients, but he did not comment on how successful they were.

Overall, the death rate in Hong Kong is a little over 4.5 percent, the same as that reported by the World Heath Organization, which says the disease has hit 3,461 people in 25 countries, killing at least 170.

On Saturday, Singapore's prime minister, Goh Chok Tong, warned that Singapore was facing the worst crisis in its 37 years since independence. The city-state has reported about 172 cases.

Despite having a much smaller outbreak than Hong Kong's, the death rate from SARS in Singapore is almost eight percent, double the global average.

State media in Vietnam report the government in Hanoi is considering a proposal to temporarily close the border with China, where the disease is believed to have originated.

Meanwhile, authorities in China are now threatening harsh punishment for officials caught covering up cases of SARS, or delaying information about the spread of the disease. Authorities in China, who have been criticized for their secretive response to the SARS outbreak, have now declared war on the virus.