Sat, May 10, 2003 - Page 3 News List

Experts express worries about undetected carriers


Experts from both sides of the Taiwan Strait said yesterday that they are worried about people who are carriers of the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) virus who do not have full-blown symptoms but can infect others with the potentially deadly disease.

They expressed their misgivings during a discussion of the campaign against SARS held via video conference in Taipei, Beijing and Guangdong Province simultaneously.

Both Lin Chou-yen (林奏延), president of the Taipei Children's Hospital, and Xia Jenlun (肖正倫), director of a respiratory disease institute in Guangzhou noted that reports of such "invisible" carriers have been circulating and that experts should continue to follow up this avenue of inquiry.

Lin said that more than 10 children are reported to have contracted SARS in Taiwanese hospitals, although only three cases had been confirmed. He said one of the children was probably infected through a relative who had earlier traveled to China.

However, he went on, the relative had not developed any symptoms of SARS, which he said is a most worrying development in the campaign against SARS.

Xia said that the sources of infection of many of the SARS patients in Guangdong have yet to be found, while the participants also discussed whether the spread of the virus could be related to the temperature.

Zhong Nanshan (鍾南山), director of a respiratory institute in Guangzhou, said that the peak of the SARS epidemic is related to temperature, claiming that the SARS virus is dormant in low or high temperatures.

Lee Ping-ying (李秉穎), a pediatrician at National Taiwan University Hospital asked whether a recent decrease in SARS patients in some Chinese provinces might have had anything to do with the temperature.

According to Zhong, the virus develops rapidly at between 17 and 260 C, but will become dormant at lower temperatures and will die if the temperature reaches 500 C.

However, he stressed that this is only an initial assessment and much more evidence is needed before the theory can be supported.

Yang Weizhong (楊維中), a Chinese disease control official said that in the case of Guangdong, SARS cases began showing in mid-November and peaked between winter and spring, while Hong Kong's cases peaked in March. The number of new cases in both areas appeared to decline after March.

Zhong, from southern Guangdong province where the SARS virus is believed to have originated, said yesterday outbreaks of the disease might be subsiding because people are developing antibodies after being exposed to the virus.

The outbreak in Guangdong eased in mid-February after authorities there enforced stringent quarantines and placed seriously ill patients in a better equipped hospital, said Zhong, who heads the Guangzhou Pulmonary Disease Research Institute.

But Zhong said many doctors and nurses who had cared for patients for weeks did not contract the illness, while staff from other hospitals that hadn't been exposed to the virus for long periods fell ill, he said.

"We wonder if some people develop antibodies and become immune to the disease," he said.

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