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Last Updated

08 Apr 2003

Source: BBC News, April 8, 2003

SARS 'spread by cockroaches'

Experts have a new theory on how the Sars illness raced through an entire apartment block in Hong Kong.

They believe that cockroaches may have carried the infection from flat to flat.

The death toll from Sars - Sudden Acute Respiratory Syndrome - continues to mount.

Officially, 98 people have now died worldwide from the severe pneumonia it causes, and the true figure is likely to be over 100 when deaths over the past few days are confirmed by the World Health Organization (WHO).

However, China provided some good news on the bug when it announced that the rate of new cases in Guangdong Province - believed to be the Sars epicentre - had more than halved in the past month.

The cockroach theory was voiced by Hong Kong Deputy Director of Health Leung Pak-yin on Monday.

He was talking about how the disease managed to spread like wildfire through an apartment block at Amoy Gardens in Kowloon.

In just a few days, more than 300 new cases arose among residents of the block.

The cases left health officials baffled and deeply concerned, as many of the 300 had had no direct contact with anyone who had Sars.

Leung said: "The drainage may be the reason.

"It is possible that the cockroaches carried the virus into the homes."

Scientists are still not sure exactly what causes Sars, or how easy it is to spread.

A WHO investigation team will finish a six-day visit to Guangdong Province on Tuesday.

The Chinese authorities are insisting that they are bringing the outbreak there under control.

Huang Qindao, the director of Guangdong's health department, told AFP: "New cases are steadily even though the disease source hasn't been found, the disease can be prevented and treated."

It was announced on Monday that an American teacher and a Chinese Canadian couple had both picked up Sars during a visit to Southern China.

It follows the death of a Finnish man in Beijing from the illness.

Pekka Aro, 53, died in Beijing bringing the country's death toll from the virus to 53.

At least 100 people worldwide are thought to have died from the virus.

On Monday, Beijing's authorities announced they would disinfect all five diplomatic compounds housing businessmen, journalists and diplomats.

Canadian concerns

In Canada, the disease has killed at least 9 people - health authorities there now believe the death toll has reached 10.

The head of the Canadian central bank warned on Monday that the virus could have economic consequences there.

"An epidemic like Sars, if it carries on, is obviously going to be quite serious but we don't know that. We know there is going to be a short-term impact," Bank of Canada Governor David Dodge said.

The virus shows no signs of being contained.

According to local reports, Sars has spread to Hong Kong's Tuen Mun district where a hospital is treating dozens of cases.

On Tuesday, Singapore said six more nurses had been infected with the virus while India reported its first case - a US citizen who had been taken ill after travelling to Bombay from China.

Australia has become the latest country to announce tough new defences against the deadly bug, giving health authorities the power to forcibly detain anyone showing its symptoms.

School closures

The new regulations also allow for the closure of schools, public places and of Australia's borders.

Australia's decision follows similarly tough announcements from Malaysia, Singapore and the US, as countries battle to prevent the spread of the illness, which is now thought to have infected more than 2,700.

Meanwhile, Chinese scientists have announced that they have detected the presence of the bacterium Chlamydia pneumoniae in some Sars victims.

They say this raises the possibility that the disease is caused by the bacterium acting in tandem with another pathogen, such as a virus from the Corona family.