WASHINGTON, April 3 (UPI) — A World Health Organization team of disease experts arrived in China’s Guangdong Province Thursday to begin an attempt to track down both the origins and cause of severe acute respiratory syndrome.

According to WHO reports, the number of cases of the disease known as SARS now totals 2,270 worldwide, including 79 deaths reported in 16 countries.

In addition, with the report of the first probable SARS case in Brazil, the pneumonia-like disease has been reported on four continents.

In Guangdong, where the disease is first known to have originated last Nov. 16, the WHO team listened to reports from local doctors and health officials about the outbreak. The province lists 1,153 cases and 40 deaths through the end of March, making it the area most seriously affected by SARS to date.

Officials said they still think the disease is caused by a member of the coronavirus family, although thus far they have not been able to isolate the culprit organism. The consensus among microbiologists is SARS is a virus that either has jumped to humans from an animal or is a human disease-causing organism that has mutated into a more virulent form.

As the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta reported Wednesday, “Alternative diagnoses have included infection with influenza virus, respiratory syncytial virus, Haemophilus influenzae, Streptococcus pneumoniae, and Staphylococcus aureus.

Total U.S. cases of the disease stand at 100, with no deaths reported.

In other SARS-related developments:

*The Hong Kong department of health reported 26 new cases Wednesday, which WHO officials said “represent a significant decline from the 155 cases reported on Tuesday and 60 reported on Monday. This trend suggests that the extraordinary control measures undertaken by the government are working.” Hong Kong officials also said 89 SARS patients have been discharged from hospitals.

*Six new cases have been reported in Malaysia, four in Canada, three in Singapore, two in France, and one each in Taiwan and Vietnam.

*Two of Romania’s three reported cases, one of the two cases in the Republic of Ireland, and the single case in Spain were removed from the list when determined to have other causes, according to the WHO.

*The American Association for Cancer Research announced it has canceled a conference involving 16,000 delegates and scheduled for this weekend in Toronto due to SARS fears.

*Although Indonesia has three suspected SARS cases, officials are awaiting confirmation through tests being conducted by the CDC in the United States, Health Minister Achmad Suyudi told the Jakarta Post.

*A 3-year-old Canadian girl has been isolated at a hospital in Shepparton, Australia, as a suspected SARS case. The girl developed a bad cough and flu-like symptoms on Monday and was rushed to hospital when she became more lethargic and short of breath, ABC News-Australia online reported.

*South Korean health authorities breathed a sigh of relief Wednesday after a female traveler who complained of flu-like symptoms turned out not to have SARS. The woman, in her 30s, had arrived at Taegu airport from Bangkok, Thailand, and was tested for the disease after showing symptoms such as fever and coughing, but X-rays proved negative for the disease and she was diagnosed with a simple cold, the Korea Times reported.

*Following the WHO’s lead, Japan issued a travel warning Thursday for Hong Kong and China’s Guangdong province and stepped up quarantine efforts at airports to guard against the spread of SARS, the Japan Times reported.

*Russia’s public health authorities have advised citizens to avoid non-essential trips to countries affected by SARS, according to Novosti, the country’s news service.

”’With additional reporting by Liz Carver, UPI News Desk”’

Copyright 2003 by United Press International. All rights reserved.

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