Emergencies preparedness, response

Update 18 - SARS outbreak:WHO investigation team moves to China, new travel advice announced [WHO PRESS RELEASE]

2 April 2003

The World Health Organization (WHO) today said that the Government of China had announced the WHO expert team currently in Beijing will travel to Guangdong Province to investigate the SARS outbreak there.

“These are very positive steps taken today by China,” said Dr David Heymann, Executive Director of Communicable Diseases at WHO. “As a result we’ll be able to gather even more evidence about the nature of the SARS outbreak in China.”

In addition, WHO began recommending that persons travelling to Hong Kong Special Administrative Region and Guangdong Province, China consider postponing all but essential travel. This updated travel advice comes as a result of new developments, particularly in Hong Kong, in the multi-country outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS).

This temporary recommendation will be reassessed daily as the epidemic evolves. The recommendation does not apply to passengers simply transiting through airports in Hong Kong Special Administrative Region or Guangdong Province, China.

The new travel advisory is intended to limit the spread of SARS by reducing travel to high risk areas. All other elements ofSevere Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) WHO previous travel guidance still stand. See Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS).

The SARS situation in Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, China has developed unique features. There is a continuing and significant increase in cases* with indications that SARS has spread beyond the initial focus in hospitals. These developments raise questions related to other possible routes of transmission of SARS. These may involve transport of the virus from one person to another via some type of environmental means. To date, no satisfactory explanation has been found regarding this possibility. Also, since March 19, nine travellers have been identified as SARS cases on returning from a visit to Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of China.

Many questions about the state of the outbreak in Guangdong Province, China which borders Hong Kong have yet to be answered. The Guangdong outbreak is the largest reported and has also shown evidence of spread in the wider community. New information provided today by provincial authorities of more than 300 new cases in March alone indicates the outbreak there continues.

Unprecedented global cooperation helps advance knowledge and containment of SARS

In the four weeks that WHO has been tracking SARS much has been learned. This is largely because scientists, clinicians, laboratory chiefs and public health officials everywhere have collaborated closely.

As a result of WHO's global alert issued on 15 March, national authorities have implemented heightened surveillance for cases of SARS. While an increasing number of countries are reporting new cases, these cases are quickly identified, patients are isolated and local transmission is stopped in most countries.

It is now known that infection control methods work to contain the spread of SARS in hospitals, even in countries which do not have the most modern equipment.

WHO and a network of 11 of the world's top laboratories are zeroing in on the cause of SARS and a diagnostic test is being developed. This test will help distinguish between those who are infected and those who are free of the SARS virus.

The laboratory network is continuing its investigations. So far, the agent causing SARS has not been fully characterized and there is no certain treatment, vaccine or known other preventative measure.

"There will be other new diseases that will emerge in the future, and we will respond just as we have with SARS — with maximum efforts to contain its spread," stated Dr Guénaël Rodier, Director, Communicable Disease Surveillance and Response, WHO.

* Cases of SARS and the countries in which they appear are posted on the WHO web site every evening in Geneva.