Taiwan Adds Record
18 SARS Cases,
Surpasses Canada
By Koh Chin Ling

TAIPEI (Bloomberg) -- Taiwan reported 18 more cases of SARS, its biggest one-day increase, bringing the total on the island to 149 and surpassing Canada as the world's fourth most affected area. China reported a drop in new cases.
The island's Center for Disease Control has preliminary findings that indicate some SARS patients may have caught the disease while on public transport, the Department of Health said in a statement. There was also a cluster in a housing complex.
The means of transmission, if confirmed, is new. The World Health Organization has said the disease is spread only by close contact, and WHO officials told Hong Kong residents they can stop wearing the surgical masks that symbolize the epidemic.
"It is time you can probably put down your mask,'' David Heymann, the United Nations agency's director for infectious disease, was cited as saying by the South China Morning Post. ``It is not necessary from an epidemiological point of view, although it may reassure people. SARS is not transmitted casually by walking down the street.''
Hong Kong's health department said none of the city's 1,661 infections, the world's second-highest tally, has been traced to public transport. WHO has said a handful of cases were probably contracted aboard airplanes.
Three-quarters of Taiwan's cases are in Taipei and its suburbs. The metropolitan area of about 6 million people has a subway system that carries about 1 million passengers a day.
Taiwan's health department didn't give details about the findings and will today give a briefing on the outbreak, which has claimed 13 lives on the island. The number of suspected cases, which may turn out to be other diseases, was unchanged at 229. Canada has reported 146 infections and 22 deaths.
Taipei discovered SARS cases in three households at an apartment complex, prompting the city government to order 471 residents to return home to be quarantined for 14 days, TVBS television reported, citing city officials.
The cluster on Da Le Street in the western part of Taipei may be similar to an outbreak in Hong Kong, where 329 people in the Amoy Gardens apartment complex caught SARS. The World Health Organization is still investigating the cause of that outbreak, which may be linked to a leaky sewage system.
Beijing, the world's most SARS-infected city with about 30 percent of worldwide cases, can't determine how as many as 60 percent of the city's 2,177 SARS patients contracted the disease, the city's top epidemiologist said.
"About 40 percent of patients are in our control -- they were either quarantined or under observation,'' said Liang Wannian, deputy director of the Beijing Bureau of Health. ``For the rest, we don't know how they get infected -- they just pop up in the hospital and they are confirmed SARS patients.''
The reason the city can't control the outbreak is that many patients come to Beijing from elsewhere for treatment, he said. The disease may be peaking in the said, he said. There were 48 new cases of the disease in the city today, the fewest since April 20, when the city began releasing full information after admitting it had covered up the extent of the outbreak.
Tracking SARS is important for halting the disease's spread, and China isn't providing enough information, WHO has said. China has two-thirds of the world's 7,053 infections. The country today reported 118 new cases, the fewest since April 20, for a total of 4,805, and six deaths, bringing the total to 230.
In Singapore, the world's third-most-affected place with 204 cases, the number of patients in hospitals fell to 23, the fewest since March 18. The city hasn't reported any new cases for three days and the World Health Organization will stop listing it as an affected country if no new case is reported by May 18.
WHO told Hong Kong officials that it may lift a travel advisory against the city when the number of new cases reported each day falls to fewer than five. There were seven infections added yesterday, the fewest since Hong Kong began full reporting in March. The city has had 208 deaths.
Elsewhere, Russia yesterday reported its first probable case of SARS, said Gennady Onishchenko, the country's chief health officer. The country closed most of its land crossings to China. Italy reintroduced border controls with its European neighbors because of SARS, La Stampa said, citing the government.
The SARS virus appears to be mutating slowly, calming fears of a disease that will easily resist drugs and increasing chances of a vaccine, according to research that will be published today in the U.K.'s Lancet medical journal.
Samples taken in Singapore, Hong Kong, Toronto, Beijing and China's Guangdong province show few genetic changes in the virus that would indicate an ability to quickly elude drugs. This also indicates the virus probably won't mutate into a less harmful form, said Edison Liu of the Genome Institute of Singapore, who led the study.
"This finding may indeed be a double-edged sword,'' University of Ottawa biochemist Earl Brown wrote in an accompanying editorial.



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