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China Goes on Nationwide SARS Alert - 2003-12-28

China has gone on nationwide alert for a possible outbreak of SARS, while the country's first suspected victim in seven months recuperates in a Guanghzhou hospital.

Airports and rail stations around the country and in the Beijing have stepped up health screenings of travelers in an effort to prevent the spread of the pneumonia-like disease.

Meanwhile, China's health ministry says the patient, a 32-year-old television producer in southern Guangdong province, is in stable condition in isolation. Several people with whom the man had contact before being hospitalized December 20 also are in quarantine but have not shown symptoms.

A World Health Organization expert is due in Beijing on Monday. In a statement Sunday, the United Nations agency said tests on the man are inconclusive and urged China to send samples overseas for international verification of a diagnosis.

SARS, or Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, first emerged in Guangdong in November 2002. It sickened almost 8,100 people in 29 countries and territories before it subsided in June. A total of 774 people succumbed to the disease.

China was the worst country affected, with more than 5,300 infections and 349 deaths.

If confirmed, the case in southern China would be the first not linked to laboratory accidents since the World Health Organization declared the SARS outbreak over in July. Two recent cases in Singapore and Taiwan were linked to accidents in medical research laboratories.

With the onset of winter, global health officials have been nervously watching for a resurgence of the disease.

Millions of people will be traveling in China during next month's Lunar New Year holiday, heightening fears of another SARS outbreak.