SARS Halted in Vietnam

Deadly virus contained as no new cases are detected for 17 days

The World Health Organization has declared that the SARS outbreak could have been halted in Vietnam, a first sign that the disease is beginning to be brought under control.

Due to the three-week double incubation period, if there are no new cases in Vietnam until April 30th, this will become the first country to have contained the spread of the disease, after becoming the first one in which it was reported.

If a country goes through two incubation periods (100 days each) without new cases, it is considered free of an outbreak of disease. The last day of April marks the end of two incubation periods in Vietnam. The WHO has praised the Vietnamese government for the quick reaction it had to the outbreak and the open admission of new cases to the authorities, whereas China was accused of stalling and under-reporting new cases.

SARS (Serious Acute Respiratory Syndrome) was first identified by Carlo Urbani, an infectious disease specialist working for the WHO, after an outbreak of the illness was identified among the health workers at the French Hospital in Hanoi, who had been treating an American-Chinese businessman. The disease had already started in China in November, 2002 and this patient had travelled to the Chinese province of Guangdong.

By 20th March, 22 staff at the Hanoi hospital were showing flu-like symptoms and 20 of these had developed pneumonia, two of them falling seriously ill, while the businessman died on 13th March and Dr. Urbani 16 days later, in Thailand.

If the disease has been halted in Vietnam, this augurs well for the health authorities in other countries where the infection has caused more concern, namely in China and Canada. If the correct procedures are followed, the virus can be contained and eliminated. Among these procedures are the health authorities placing in isolation anyone with the symptoms of the disease and not relying on diagnostic tests, which are unreliable because false negative results can be obtained, leaving an infected person to move freely within the community.

The death rate from SARS is around 5% which means that even if a patient is infected, there is a 95% chance of recovery. The act of washing the hands at regular intervals also reduces the chance of infection, whether by SARS or any other illness, by 60%, according to health experts.

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Author`s name Olga Savka