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SARS cases continue to mount worldwide

By STEVE MITCHELL, UPI Medical Correspondent

WASHINGTON, April 30 (UPI) -- More than 200 new cases of severe acute respiratory syndrome and 19 additional deaths from the disease were reported worldwide Wednesday as new research gave health officials a better indication of who is most at risk of developing SARS.

Worldwide, SARS has now infected 5,663 people and caused 372 deaths in 26 countries, with the bulk coming from China and other Asian countries.

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Most people -- up to 90 percent or more -- appear to recover from SARS but about 6 percent of those infected have died and health officials have been trying to figure out what factors might predispose people to the more severe forms of the disease.

New research from Hong Kong might offer important clues. Researchers there studied 75 SARS patients and found older individuals and people infected with hepatitis B virus were more at risk of developing severe complications from the disease.

Further details of the study were not immediately available but will be published in the medical journal The Lancet next week.

China continued to struggle with SARS, reporting a triple-digit increase in cases for the eighth day in a row. The country reported 166 new cases Wednesday and 11 deaths, bringing its total to 3,460 people infected and 159 deaths.

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Most of the new infections and deaths occurred in China's capital city of Beijing, which reported 101 new cases and nine deaths.

Wang Qishan, deputy secretary of the Beijing Municipal Party Committee and acting Beijing mayor, told a news briefing it would be difficult to predict whether SARS cases will continue to rise in China.

"In my opinion, as long as the source of infection has not been completely cut off, it will be quite dangerous to make any predictions about the number of SARS cases," Wang said. "In other words, such predictions can become a gamble," he said.

Hong Kong saw 17 new cases and seven deaths for a cumulative total of 1,589 cases and 157 deaths.

Taiwan reported 12 new cases and its first death from the disease, for a total of 78 cases and one fatality.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Wednesday added Taiwan to its list of areas travelers should avoid.

"CDC advises that people planning elective or nonessential travel to Taiwan may wish to postpone their trips until further notice," the agency said in a written statement.

"This decision is based on the magnitude and scope of the evolving outbreak, including a rapid increase in suspected and probable cases," the CDC said. There have also been several cases in which people have contracted the illness without having close contact with infected patients, "raising concern about community transmission," the agency said.

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The disease has also spread to a new location: Macao, which lies to the south of China and is under Chinese rule, reported its first SARS case.

Canada, which saw Toronto taken off the World Health Organization's SARS travel advisory list Tuesday, reported two more cases.

A spokesman for the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-term Care told United Press International the cases did not occur in Toronto.

Of the 147 people infected with SARS in Canada, 143 of the cases have occurred in Ontario, the province that contains Toronto. The four other SARS cases occurred in the British Columbia province.

All of the 20 fatalities seen in Canada occurred in Ontario, Margot Geduld, spokeswoman for Health Canada, told UPI.

The United States reported 11 more cases, bringing its total to 52 infected with no deaths.

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