Sat, May 10, 2003 - Page 5 News List

Singapore cases reflect ethnicity


An analysis of Singapore's nine-week-long outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) published yesterday shows that, although women outnumbered men in contracting the disease, more than half of those who died were men. The average age of those who died was 53.

The study prepared by the World Health Organization and Singapore's Health Ministry said about 12.5 percent of Singapore's SARS patients have died, and that 56 percent of those victims were male.

However, at 66 percent, women outnumbered men among those diagnosed as probably infected with SARS. The report did not explain the higher death rate for men.

It said about 96 percent of the dead have been ethnically Chinese Singaporeans, who make up about three-quarters of the island's population. About 15 percent of the population are Malay Muslims, with the rest mostly of Indian descent.

The backgrounds of those sickened with the disease have been more diverse, the report showed. About 81 percent of probable SARS cases were Singaporean Chinese, 8 percent Filipino, 5 percent from China, 3 percent Indonesian, 2 percent Malaysian and 1 percent Indian.

Singapore's leaders have sought to play down perceptions that the disease disproportionately attacks some ethnic groups, with the deputy prime minister saying the victims have reflected Singapore's multiethnic society.

The median age of all probable SARS patients is 36. A handful of children contracted the disease -- the youngest a 4-year-old boy -- but none died. Scientists already had observed that children were less severely affected by the illness than adults. It is not yet clear why.

Nurses have been particularly hard hit. Eighty-four patients, or 42 percent of the probable SARS cases, have been health care workers. Of those, 49 were nurses.

The island's hospitals continue to struggle with the illness, the report said, citing the difficulty for health care workers in diagnosing SARS in people already sick with other ailments.

The data also backed up earlier reports that most of Singapore's cases can be linked to one woman who brought the illness back from Hong Kong after a February shopping trip. She directly infected 21 people -- mostly her own family and others who visited her in hospital -- and indirectly infected at least another 151.

The report marks March 6 as the beginning of the island's outbreak. The Health Ministry was notified on that day of three people who had returned from Hong Kong and were hospitalized with symptoms of the disease.

The report's data was based on 25 SARS deaths and 201 probable cases. Since the report was compiled, there have been two more deaths and three more probable cases.

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