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WHO experts arrive at site in China of first and largest SARS outbreak

WHO experts arrive at site in China of first and largest SARS outbreak

Seeking to find the source of a deadly new respiratory disease, United Nations World Health Organization (WHO) experts arrived in Guangdong Province, China, today and immediately started work at the site of the first and largest outbreak of the illness, Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS).

With the worldwide total reaching 2,270 cases and 79 deaths, the WHO team met with senior provincial health officials and held discussions with health workers at all levels on patterns of transmission, clinical profiles and the suspected causative agent. The health workers, who include epidemiologists and clinicians treating SARS patients, have first-hand knowledge of the outbreak.

The world's first recognized case of SARS occurred in Guangdong on 16 November. Since then, Chinese authorities have reported a cumulative total of 1,153 cases and 40 deaths in the province up to the end of March, making the area the most seriously affected by SARS to date.

Expectations are high that important clues will emerge concerning the origins of SARS, which is thought to be caused by a new virus in the coronavirus family, WHO said. The exact identity of the virus has proved elusive. Scientists, who confer daily in teleconferences organized by WHO, currently speculate that the SARS virus either jumped to humans from an animal species or mutated into a more virulent form.