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Frontline expert recalls SARS investigation

By Xu Lin | | Updated: 2013-04-17 15:36

For infectious disease expert Luo Huiming, the investigation into SARS a decade ago was nothing out of the ordinary. It was a new disease but certain steps and procedures had to be followed.

"SARS is not as horrible as one might imagine. The more transparent the information is, the less the public will be susceptible to irrational fear," says Luo, 48, vice-director of the National Immunization Program at the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

Before 2008, he worked at the center in Guangdong province. In January 2003, when Guangdong's Department of Health received an unusual case report from Heyuan city, Luo and other experts went to investigate.

SARS was still an unknown disease at that time and elemental precautions had to be observed. They concluded it was an atypical pathogen which could travel though the respiratory system, and reported it to the Department of Health.

Similar cases were found that month in other cities in Guangdong province, and the disease spread quickly.

In February, the team drafted a plan to tackle the disease, including what kind of symptoms to look out for and what protective measures to take.

According to Luo, the only way was to tackle it was to eradicate the source of infection.

"Transmission was like that for flu," he said, adding one person could easily infect three others.

Some medical staff were infected as they had to work in close proximity with infected patients.

He is now helping in a program to wipe out measles in China, which also spreads through the respiratory system and can cause pneumonia and blindness. An infected person can transmit it to 14 others.

In 1959, there were nearly 10 million measles patients in China and the fatality rate was about 3 percent. Since China started a vaccination program in 1978, the disease has been on the retreat.

Generally speaking, good health requires a balanced diet and active lifestyle but every now and then the world is faced with a new medical conumdrum that requires dedication and expertise to tackle.

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