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Washington Health Officials Preparing For Possible Future SARS Outbreak

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WASHINGTON, July 6 (AFP) - Health officials here believe a new SARS Outbreak is highly likely this year and are working to create a plan for containing the infection in the Washington area, the Washington Post reported Sunday.

That's despite the World Health Organisation's announcement Saturday that the pneumonia-like illness has been contained worldwide and that Taiwan, the last country on its watch list, is free of new infections.

Washington health officials believe a new outbreak is likely when the weather turns cold in the northern hemisphere, in the last quarter of the year. They also believe a new outbreak could be more widespread.

Officials from the departments of Homeland Security and Health and Human Services are meeting with local government officials and staffs of area hospitals to devise a response plan, the report said.

"It's a national security issue for the capital of the United States to keep its hospitals open," Robert Malson, president of the (Washington) DC Hospital Association, was quoted as saying.

The Washington area -- comprising the city of Washington and suburbs in neighboring states of Virginia and Maryland -- had three probable and seven suspect SARS infections earlier in the year, all of them in Virginia. There were no SARS fatalities in the United States.

Canada, the only country outside Asia to report deaths from SARS, lost 39 people to the disease, and closed several Toronto area hospitals during the outbreaks.

The worldwide SARS death toll reached more than 800 since the disease emerged in February.

In its announcement Saturday the WHO warned that the world is not SARS-free and that health authorities must not drop their guard over the next year.

"We cannot let a false sense of security develop over containment which has occurred today, because false security could become our worst enemy," said David Heymann, head of WHO's communicable diseases unit.

It urged governments to boost their public health systems in preparation for the next SARS outbreak, notably by improving surveillance and reporting systems and investing more in hospital infection control.



COPYRIGHT 2003 Agence France-Presse. All rights reserved.

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