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Report: SARS not airborne virus
( 2003-10-21 09:49) (Agencies)

There is no evidence to suggest that SARS is an airborne virus, the World Health Organization said Monday in a report that also found health workers to be at special risk and children rarely affected.

A medical worker monitors air travellers' temperatures which are checked by a high-tech thermal-imaging thermometer at the Beijing Capital International Airport on September 11, 2003. China is pulling out all the stops to squash a possible winter resurgence of SARS, training scores of doctors and nurses, upgrading hospital surveillance.

The report, summarizing international research on severe acute respiratory syndrome, concluded that at all outbreak sites, the main route of transmission was direct contact, via the eyes, nose and mouth, with infectious respiratory droplets.

"The finding that each patient infected on average three others is consistent with a disease spread by direct contact with virus-laden droplets rather than with airborne particles," WHO said, noting that in airborne diseases such as influenza or measles, one person can infect an entire room by coughing.

SARS, first detected in China in November 2002, killed 774 people worldwide out of nearly 8,100 sickened, according to WHO figures.

The report said health workers accounted for 21 percent of all cases. In some cases, transmission occurred even though they were wearing masks, eye protection, gowns and gloves.

The risk of a person transmitting the disease is greatest at around day 10 of the illness, when a maximum virus excretion from the respiratory tract occurs, then declines, the report said.

On the other hand, research found no evidence that patients transmit the infection 10 days after fever has subsided.

The report said children are rarely affected, with only two reported cases of transmission from children to adults and no reports of transmission from children to other children. No evidence has been found to show SARS transmission in schools, or in infants whose mothers were infected during pregnancy.

Research also showed that five international flights have been associated with the transmission of the disease, but found no evidence of transmission on flights after the March 27 travel advisory in which WHO recommended exit screening and other measures.

The report was released at the start of four consecutive SARS meetings being hosted in Geneva by the WHO starting Monday through November 1, which will address priorities for scientific research, laboratory issues, clinical treatment protocols, and prospects for vaccine development.

SARS shaved about US$18 billion from Asia's combined gross domestic product and cost Asian economies nearly US$60 billion in lost demand and revenues, according to the Asian Development Bank. The GDP cost alone equaled about US$2 million for each person infected, the bank said.

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