China's last two SARS patients have been released from the hospital in Beijing, bringing to an end an outbreak of disease that killed 349 people in the country. But officials are warning that the disease could reappear.
A 45-year-old medical worker and a 19-year-old student were discharged from a Beijing hospital Saturday, with speeches by officials hailing the country's victory over Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, or SARS.
They were the last of more than 5,300 Chinese who had contracted SARS earlier this year. The viral disease originated in China's Guangdong Province late last year and spread within months to countries around the world.
In all, thousands were infected by the pneumonia-like disease in several Asian countries and Canada, and more than 800 died worldwide. China was the hardest hit.
A banner outside Beijing's Ditan Hospital, where the two men had been treated, read, "Goodbye SARS, Let's Move on to Tomorrow."
However, officials of China and the World Health Organization warned against becoming complacent. The WHO's representative in Beijing was quoted as saying, "The fight against SARS is not over."
A so-called coronavirus has been identified as the probable cause of the disease, but so far no vaccine to prevent the disease has been found, and medical authorities say none is on the horizon.
During the outbreak, doctors said it appeared the virus was more likely to strike during cold weather. Officials in China, Hong Kong and other countries hit by the disease are therefore on guard for a possible reappearance during the coming winter months.