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WHO doctor dies of respiratory disease

GENEVA, Switzerland, March 29 (UPI) -- Carlo Urbani, the Italian doctor who first identified a new deadly respiratory illness has himself died of the disease, the World Health Organization said Saturday.

Urbani, who detected the outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, or SARS, was 46.

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"Carlo Urbani's death saddens us all deeply at WHO," Dr. Gro Harlem Brundtland, WHO's director-general said in a statement. "His life reminds us again of our true work in public health. Today, we should all pause for a moment and remember the life of this outstanding physician."

The U.N.-based health agency said Urbani died in Thailand after becoming infected in Vietnam.

"Carlo was a wonderful human being and we are all devastated," said Pascale Brudon, the WHO Representative in Vietnam.

"He was very much a doctor, his first goal was to help people. Carlo was the one who very quickly saw that this was something very strange. When people became very concerned in the hospital, he was there every day, collecting samples, talking to the staff and strengthening infection control procedures."

Urbani was married and the father of three children.

SARS has killed at least 55 around the world and infected nearly 1,500 others, with the most cases and deaths in China's Guangdong province. WHO confirmed Friday that China is the country of origin for SARS.

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In Hong Kong, 58 new cases of SARS were reported Saturday, which was the biggest one-day increase since the WHO issued a global alert this month. At least 425 people have been infected with SARS in Hong Kong and 11 have died.

Elsewhere, Taiwan said Saturday its SARS cases had risen from 10 to 12. Australia advised its citizens to reconsider traveling to Hong Kong, Singapore, China and Vietnam.

There were 59 cases of SARS in the United States and at least 35 in Canada, where three people have died.

"We are at a situation in time where we recognize that the disease is still primarily limited to travelers, to health care personnel who have taken care of SARS patients, and to close contact with SARS patients," said Dr. Julie Gerberding, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

WHO officials said countries are taking steps, including quarantine, to prevent the further spread of SARS. Such measures are needed to protect populations against infection, keep the disease from spreading into the general population and help prevent international spread to other countries, particularly through air travel, officials said.

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