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Last Updated

29 Mar 2003

Source: Associated Press, March 29, 2003

Doctor Who ID'd Mystery Illness Dies

GENEVA (AP) -- The World Health Organization doctor who first identifed the outbreak of a deadly mystery illness died of the disease on Saturday.

Italian Dr. Carlo Urbani, 46, a WHO expert on communicable diseases, died in Thailand where he had been receiving treatment after becoming infected while working in Vietnam, the U.N. agency said.

Urbani, who worked in public health programs in Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam, was the first to identify severe acute respiratory syndrome in an American businessman who had been admitted to a hospital in Hanoi, where he later died.

WHO said Urbani's work had allowed it to increase its surveillance of the disease rapidly, and many new cases were identified and isolated before they infected hospital staff.

"Carlo was a wonderful human being and we are all devastated," said Pascale Brudon, the WHO Representative in Vietnam. "Carlo was the one who very quickly saw that this was something very strange. When people became very concerned in the hospital, he was there every day, collecting samples, talking to the staff and strengthening infection control procedures."

Urbani, who was married with three children, was also president of Doctors Without Borders-Italy.

"Carlo Urbani's death saddens us all deeply at WHO," said WHO Director-General Gro Harlem Brundtland. "His life reminds us again of our true work in public health. Today, we should all pause for a moment and remember the life of this outstanding physician."

To date, SARS has killed at least 55 people and sickened 1,485, with the biggest number of cases and deaths in China's Guangdong province, where an earlier outbreak began in November.