Report says handling of Beijing SARS cases could serve as a guide

Tuesday, December 23rd 2003, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

CHICAGO (AP) _ Doctors watching for another SARS outbreak should take a cue from how the epidemic was handled earlier this year in hard-hit Beijing, where vigorous infection-control practices rapidly overcame authorities' initial missteps, U.S. and Chinese government researchers say.

Quarantining people and making health care workers wear gowns, gloves, masks and goggles helped Chinese officials stop any new cases from developing within six weeks of the outbreak's peak in late April, the researchers said.

``The lessons learned from controlling this outbreak can hopefully serve to inform future responses to SARS,'' said researchers led by Dr. Xinghuo Pang of Beijing's Center for Disease Prevention and Control. Doctors from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also participated.

Their report appears in Wednesday's Journal of the American Medical Association.

A separate small study in JAMA found that the drug interferon used with steroid medication worked better than steroids alone at reducing SARS symptoms in patients in Toronto.

The pneumonia-like viral disease has sickened nearly 8,100 people worldwide, including 774 who died, according to the World Health Organization. Most of the cases happened in late winter and spring.

Chinese officials were accused of failing to communicate the problem early enough to hospitals and the public, enabling the disease to spread. But their later efforts resulted in an impressive and surprisingly quick curtailment of the outbreak in Beijing, according to the report.

During the Beijing outbreak, 30,178 people were quarantined, including people who had been in close contact with SARS patients. Those people were confined mostly to their homes for two weeks.

Most of the 407 Beijing health care workers infected contracted SARS early on, the report said. Beginning in mid-April, health care workers received infection-control training. In late April, authorities began placing SARS patients together in designated hospital wards and limited visitors.

The outbreak was considered contained in July, though at least two SARS cases have surfaced worldwide since then, including a military scientist in Taiwan reported earlier this month. Officials have said the scientist may have become infected while working with the virus in his lab without protective gear.

Doctors have tried such treatments as antiviral drugs, antibiotics and steroids, with varying results. In the Toronto study, there was one death among the 13 steroid-only patients but none among the nine who got the combined treatment.