Thu, May 15, 2003 - Page 5 News List

Hong Kong study sees virus subsiding


The SARS outbreak in Hong Kong is losing momentum and could completely vanish within a few months, a researcher said yesterday.

SARS has infected 1,689 people here and killed 225, including a frontline doctor who was killed by the disease on Tuesday.

But cases have stayed in the single digits for 10 consecutive days and scientists at the Chinese University of Hong Kong believe the disease is on its way out.

They completed a study analyzing the so-called basic reproductive number, which calculates how many new infections are spread from each SARS victim.

When SARS was spreading rapidly in Hong Kong, each patient was on average infecting two other people, but the number has now dropped to just 0.84 infections being spread by each victim.

In epidemics where diseases are spread person-to-person and each victim is infecting less than one other person on average, the illness is in decline, said one of the researchers, Dr. Wong Tze-wai.

Wong said the research indicates Hong Kong's efforts to contain SARS are paying off. The researchers have projected that the SARS outbreak will have dwindled substantially by June or July and it should completely die out here no later than October.

The numbers of SARS cases came down dramatically after Hong Kong ordered strict quarantines of households of all victims last month.

That appears to be breaking the chain of transmission, unlike the cases of some diseases that burn out naturally after spreading through a population, Wong said.

Wong acknowledged the model he and colleagues developed has some limitations. It only applies to person-to-person transmission, which the World Health Organization has called the main route of infection for SARS.

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