Hong Kong Health Secretary: SARS Likely Spread Through Sewage Pipes

An official reprort states that a SARS patient with diarrhea infected other people in a Hong Kong apartment complex as the disease apparently spread into homes through a sewage pipe linked to poorly sealed water drains.

People who came down with severe acute respiratory syndrome in Block E of the Amoy Gardens apartments also got diarrhea, creating huge amounts of contaminated feces that spread the virus through pipes in Hong Kong's biggest outbreak of the flu-like illness, said the health secretary, Dr. Yeoh Eng-kiong.

Rats and cockroaches also may have spread SARS, but only incidentally after they picked it up around the apartments, Yeoh told a news conference.

"They were just passive, mechanical carriers," Yeoh said, adding that rats captured by the investigators did not come down with SARS symptoms.

There is no evidence of airborne transmission, Yeoh said.

At least 324 people were infected in Amoy Gardens, where SARS also was apparently spread through person-to-person contact and in common areas, such as elevators, lobbies and staircases, according to the report made by several Hong Kong government agencies.

The SARS outbreak in Amoy Gardens has been the most alarming in Hong Kong, where the disease has infected 1,297 people and killed at least 65. Four new deaths and 29 new cases were reported Thursday.

About 40 percent of the SARS cases in Amoy Gardens came from one building, called Block E, that was evacuated at one point with all of its residents moved into holiday camps that were turned into makeshift quarantine centers.

The disease was brought to Amoy Gardens by an infected man who visited his brother there on March 14 and March 19, Yeoh said. The outbreak peaked in Block E on March 24 and three days later spread to residents of other blocks.

Yeoh said that once the virus got into the waste pipe in Block E, droplets carrying it apparently moved up through people's bathroom drains when U-shaped water seals dried out. Fans apparently helped suck the virus particles into homes, he said.

The pneumonia-like illness has killed at least 166 people and infected more than 3,000 worldwide. Mainland China and Hong Kong have reported 65 deaths each. Singapore has 15 SARS deaths, Canada 13, Vietnam five, Thailand two and Malaysia one.

Meanwhile, the world's second most populous nation reported its first SARS case Thursday.

Authorities in India said a 32-year-old man in the western state of Goa contracted the disease after traveling to Hong Kong and Singapore, S.P. Agarwal, the government's director-general of health services, told a news conference.

Prashil Varde, an Indian marine engineer, returned home to Goa on April 3, he was treated by a private doctor for cough and fever, two of the symptoms of SARS, said Dr. Shivlal, director of the National Institute of Communicable Diseases. He uses only one name.

The man and his wife, who has not tested positive for the virus, have been isolated, Agarwal said.

The World Health Organization has said scientists have confirmed the identity of the SARS virus, a key step toward finding drugs to fight it.

In Singapore, airline passengers arriving from some SARS-stricken areas were being scanned for fever by military-grade equipment adapted for the war on SARS.

Those who show up on a camera screen as "hot bodies," or with a temperature above 99.5 degrees, will be pulled aside to have their temperature taken by a nurse, said Evelyn Ong, a spokeswoman at the Defense Science and Technology Agency.


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