Mon, Mar 31, 2003 - Page 1 News List

Doctor who first identified SARS dies in hospital

AP , HONG KONG

The doctor who was the first to identify an outbreak of a deadly mystery illness died of the disease in Thailand on Saturday, as fear spread through badly-hit Hong Kong which reported 45 new cases and one death.

The Geneva-based World Health Organization (WHO) said Italian Dr. Carlo Urbani, 46, a WHO expert on communicable diseases, died in Thailand where he had been receiving treatment after becoming infected while working in Vietnam.

Urbani had identified the disease, known as severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), in an American businessman who had been admitted to a hospital in Hanoi, where he later died.

Globally SARS has now killed at least 55 and sickened nearly 1,500 others, with the biggest number of cases and deaths in China's Guangdong Province, where an earlier outbreak began in November. In Hong Kong it has killed 12 people and infected at least 470.

Banks and offices were closed in the former British colony on Saturday and much activity in the bustling city ground to a halt. Thousands of Hong Kong people wore surgical masks around town, but many weren't venturing out at all, ominously slowing down an already feeble economy.

The WHO says the disease is spreading via international travelers, and nations across Asia are fighting to contain the illness.

Australia has advised its citizens to reconsider traveling to Hong Kong, Singapore, China and Vietnam -- the four places in Asia that have suffered SARS deaths -- if they were worried about the disease.

At least 50 suspected SARS cases are being monitored in the US and 35 in Canada, where three people have died.

The illness appears to have originated in China, which has come under sharp criticism for being slow to report some 800 SARS cases and 34 deaths. WHO officials who went to China to investigate the disease said Beijing has promised to better monitor the illness, with daily updates.

But it's still unclear how many cases China has seen.

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