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UN leading international efforts to identify and treat unknown respiratory disease

UN leading international efforts to identify and treat unknown respiratory disease

With little known about the origin and course of a recently emerged respiratory disease, the United Nations lead health agency today stepped up several activities aimed at strengthening international response to prevent a potential outbreak.

The World Health Organization (WHO) Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network is coordinating international efforts to identify the causative agent and effective treatment of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). The infectious disease, characterized by atypical pneumonia, spreads from person to person through close contact.

Through its regional office in Manila, WHO is establishing logistics bases and supply chains to ensure rapid provision of protective equipment and medicines needed to respond to a possible outbreak. Comprising 11 laboratories in 10 countries, the collaborative effort will also improve diagnostic precision and move work forward on the development of a diagnostic test.

Little is known about the clinical course and epidemiology of the disease, so WHO is calling on national health authorities to maintain close vigilance for suspected cases. To date, almost all reported cases have occurred in health workers involved in the direct care of reported cases and in family members.

Most of these new cases are presently concentrated in Hanoi and Hong Kong, where WHO teams are now assisting health authorities in outbreak management. In addition, they are collaborating on the collection of epidemiological and clinical data that can improve understanding of SARS.

Chinese authorities also issued a summary report on an outbreak of what may be the same or a related disease that began in Guangdong province in southern China in November and peaked in mid-February. The report, which includes data on the diagnosis and management of more than 300 cases, is presently undergoing analysis and is expected to further contribute to understanding of the syndrome.