Spread of SARS coming to an end

Sunday, May 18, 2003

The majority of the SARS outbreaks around the world are coming to an end, the World Health Organization said Saturday as officials expressed "great hope" that measures to control the spread of the disease were working.

Difficult struggles remain in mainland China, but the epidemic there, although large, is no more complex than it is in other countries and the government is making great strides, said Mike Ryan, WHO's coordinator of the global effort to stop the severe acute respiratory syndrome virus.

Scientists from 16 SARS-struck locations concluded a one-and-a-half day conference Saturday at the WHO's Geneva headquarters, where they discussed the key factors that allow the virus to spread, the effectiveness of control measures and what remaining questions need to be answered.

"The message coming out of this meeting is certainly one of great hope. It's one of celebration that the measures are working, but also a call to action because we've got a lot more to do yet before we end this problem," Ryan said in a conference call with reporters.

"The experience across the range of countries involved has been that the control measures that we designed at the beginning of the epidemic have worked.

"In country after country, we have managed to break the cycle of transmission through the simple implementation of good case finding, contact tracing and isolation practices in hospitals," Ryan said.

"We have seen the number of secondary cases per case dropping systematically in all of the countries to a point now where we believe, in the majority of cases, we are now seeing the epidemics coming to an end," he said.

SARS has infected more than 7,800 people around the world and killed 625.

Taiwan on Saturday announced its biggest one-day jump in those infected, raising the total number of SARS cases on the island to 308. Singapore said fears of a SARS outbreak at a mental hospital were unfounded, leaving it on track to be declared free of the disease.

The main lesson of SARS, Ryan said, is to be prepared and organized.

"Managing an outbreak as serious as SARS requires very good collaboration between all services. The lesson for any future epidemics is really how we organize ourselves. We probably need to do that better in future," Ryan said.

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