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China SARS Case Causes Concern in Asia - 2004-01-05

Asian countries are reacting with serious concern, after China confirmed its first new case of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome in six months. The sometimes-deadly viral outbreak last year decimated travel and battered the region's economies.

Around Asia, authorities at airports and border checkpoints are vigilant in screening travelers for symptoms of the potentially deadly SARS respiratory virus.

Focus is now on people who recently traveled to China, where a new case of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome has emerged. This is the first case since a global outbreak was brought under control in July that does not involve medical researchers studying the virus.

Countries around the region are investigating possible suspected cases. Symptoms include high fever and respiratory problems.

On Monday, Philippine authorities were testing a woman who works in Hong Kong and developed atypical pneumonia while on a visit to the Philippines.

Dr. Troy Gepte, a spokesman for Manila's National Epidemiology Center, says health officials throughout the Philippines are on alert.

"We are presently very vigilant in airports and also in hospitals," said Dr. Gepte. "Our referral system seems to be in place because we are able to immediately detect this case."

Malaysia Monday ruled out SARS in a woman sick with fever after visiting Guangzhou.

Peter Cordingley, a spokesman of the World Health Organization, says Asia needs to do all it can to prevent another possible outbreak.

"Asia should be prepared for lots of scares and for the return of SARS," he said.

SARS sickened about eight thousand people worldwide since the disease first appeared in China in late 2002. More than 700 people died, mostly in China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, Vietnam and Canada.

Fears of the disease curtailed travel in Asia and battered the region's economies. At the height of the outbreak last year, people in the worst affected areas wore facemasks. Disinfectants, vitamins and other medicines were in high demand.

Over the past few months, countries have been on alert for a possible comeback of the virus as the winter flu season set in in the northern hemisphere.