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killer bug may strand tourists

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    Killer bug may strand tourists
    By Johanna Leggatt
    March 30 2003
    The Sun-Herald

    Australians are being warned to think twice about travelling to Asia, following the deaths of 53 people worldwide from Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS).

    Two Australians are under investigation in NSW after displaying the syndrome's flu-like symptoms but are expected to be cleared, according to a Commonwealth health spokeswoman.

    Last night, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade altered its travel advice to include the following: "Persons planning to visit or transit such countries should be aware that as a result of screening arrangements recommended by the World Health Organisation, individuals who show symptoms of SARS may not be allowed to depart immediately."

    Australians concerned about contracting SARS are urged to reconsider their plans to travel to Hong Kong, Singapore, China, Vietnam and Canada.

    "There's nothing stopping people from going but what we're saying is you might not be able to come home if you display symptoms," said the Commonwealth spokeswoman.

    No confirmed cases of SARS have yet been found in Australia.

    The SARS outbreak has infected more than 1400 people worldwide and killed 53 people.

    The disease first appeared in China's southern Guangdong province, adjacent to Hong Kong, over the winter, and has infected about 800 people there.

    But it spread to Hong Kong through just one patient, a Chinese professor who had been treating patients in Guangdong and who fell ill at the Metropole Hotel on February 21.

    He infected six foreign tourists and one local resident, a 26-year-old Hong Kong airport worker, health officials said.

    The professor went to Hong Kong's Prince of Wales Hospital, told the staff that he was highly infectious and demanded that he be put in an isolation ward.

    The professor gave doctors a brief history of the illness before he became extremely sick, a Hong Kong official said. He eventually died.

    When the 26-year-old airport worker showed up sick at the same Prince of Wales Hospital, he was not immediately recognised as carrying the disease and infected as many as 34 doctors and nurses.

    As those health workers began falling ill, the hospital put few restrictions on visitors. In Hong Kong, an apparently large number of the infected patients' relatives went to the bedsides of victims.

    In Australia, the Commonwealth Department of Health and Ageing has set up an information line, 1800 004 599.

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