GENEVA, Switzerland, March 19 (UPI) — The outbreak of the disease called severe acute respiratory syndrome, which so far has killed nine people and infected as many as 264, generally is being contained outside its points of origin in Asia, World Health Organization officials said Wednesday.

“The outbreak we feel is on its way to containment at least outside Vietnam and Hong Kong, and China — if the Chinese outbreak is linked,” Dr. David Heymann, WHO’s executive director of communicable diseases, told a news briefing.

Heymann said so far there has been no confirmed secondary transmission of the disease since the WHO put out its global alert on March 15.

In addition, Dr. Klaus Stohr, a WHO scientist, said one laboratory in Hong Kong — part of an alliance of 11 facilities in nine countries — which has been working around the clock testing specimens to identify the cause of the potent strain, had found a virus in one sample.

He said although the finding was “important,” it was only one of suspect virus families and more tests will have to be conducted before a definitive diagnosis can be made.

According to the latest WHO data released Wednesday afternoon:

*Hong Kong has reported 150 cases, including five deaths;

*Vietnam has had 56 cases with two deaths;

*Singapore 31 cases and no deaths;

*The United States 11 suspected cases and no deaths;

*Canada eight cases with two deaths;

*Taiwan three cases and no deaths;

*Thailand one case and no deaths; and

*Germany, Slovenia, Spain and the United Kingdom each has reported one case and no deaths.

WHO officials cautioned the data are highly volatile and subject to change rapidly.

Heymann also said the agency had received new information from Chinese authorities on 305 cases of an influenza-like outbreak in the southern province of Guangdong. He cautioned, however, at present there is no definite connection between this outbreak and SARS, although it is linked circumstantially because of geography and timing.

“Once there is a diagnostic test, once we know what’s causing this, we will be able to link them,” he said, adding that a WHO international team will arrive in China within the next few days and will be working closely with the government.

Dr. Guenael Rodier, WHO’s director for disease surveillance and response, said the severe strain might not be influenza “because of preliminary laboratory findings and what we know of the mode of transmission.”

This is rather reassuring, he said, in terms of containing the international spread of the disease.

“We’re dealing with an infection that requires close contact with patients,” Rodier told reporters.

“That’s a huge difference compared with influenza, which spreads rapidly, and the virus can fly in the air for a while. But it’s not the case for this particular disease,” he said.

Copyright 2003 by United Press International. All rights reserved.

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