Viet Nam, where Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) was first identified, today became the first nation to be removed from the list of countries with local transmission of the deadly new disease, the United Nations health agency announced.
The World Health Organization (WHO) said the decision followed careful monitoring of Viet Nam's current situation, in which there had been no new reported cases since 8 April and no cases of spread to other countries. "Viet Nam has stopped the outbreak within its borders," said Pascale Brudon, WHO's Representative to the country.
The absence of new cases for a continuous 20-day period was an encouraging indicator that appropriate detection and protection measures, as recommended by WHO, can contain outbreaks and prevent their further spread, the agency said in a statement. As of 26 April there had been 4,836 cases of SARS, 293 of them fatal, in 26 countries.
"Viet Nam has effectively worked in partnership with other governments, WHO and WHO's partners to stop its outbreak of SARS," David Heymann, Executive Director of the WHO's Communicable Diseases Cluster, said. "We are pleased that other countries in the region with local transmission of SARS are also following appropriate detection and protection measures, and cooperating with each other to do so."
Viet Nam was the second country to suffer a SARS outbreak after China, where SARS began in Guangdong Province in mid-November. But the ailment was first identified by Carlo Urbani, a WHO infectious disease specialist, who alerted the world when cases of an unusual and severe respiratory illness began appearing among health staff treating a Chinese-American businessman at the French Hospital in Hanoi.
The patient's recent travel history had included trips to Guangdong. By 20 March, at least 22 staff at the Hanoi hospital were ill with influenza-like symptoms and 20 had signs of pneumonia, two of them in serious condition. The businessman died in Hong Kong on 13 March and Dr. Urbani died in Thailand on 29 March.
WHO said Viet Nam was one of several countries affected by local transmission that have conscientiously implemented detection and protection measures including prompt identification of persons with SARS, their movements and contacts; effective isolation of SARS patients in hospitals; appropriate protection of medical staff treating these patients; comprehensive identification and isolation of suspected SARS cases; exit screening of international travellers; timely and accurate reporting and sharing of information with other authorities and/or governments.