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Travel Advisories For SARS Are Over -- For Now

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The World Health Organization said Tuesday that it's safe to visit Beijing again as it lifted the last remaining travel restriction related to SARS.

''This is very good news and shows the great progress the world has made'' against severe acute respiratory syndrome, said Gro Harlem Brundtland, director-general of WHO. WHO officials recommend that countries maintain vigilance, because it is not known whether SARS will make a comeback.

''It may be that the virus, having adapted itself to humans, will do what so many other seasonal viruses do, and that is to stay under the radar-detection level and then resurface,'' says Kenneth McIntosh of Children's Hospital in Boston, an expert in coronaviruses, a family of viruses that causes illnesses from the common cold to SARS.

''It's actually not unlikely it will resurface quickly somewhere. We may well have some small outbreaks as aftershocks of this large outbreak.''

But, he says, there's a good chance SARS will vanish. The origin of the virus is unknown, though scientists believe it jumped to humans from animals. That kind of leap may be required for it to re-emerge, McIntosh says: ''It is possible the virus will not resurface unless it transitions again from animals to humans.''

SARS had never been seen until it emerged last fall in the southern Chinese province of Guangdong and was carried around the world by airline travelers. SARS has infected 8,458 people and caused 807 deaths, WHO says.

Beijing was hit hardest; it had 2,521 cases and 191 deaths. In lifting the travel advisory, WHO officials reported that the situation in the Chinese capital has ''improved significantly'' and no new cases have been found since May 29. At the outbreak's peak in late April, Beijing was reporting 100 new cases each day, and WHO issued a recommendation that travelers postpone non-essential travel to the city.

Similar travel advisories for Hong Kong, Toronto, China's Shanxi and Guangdong provinces, Taiwan and other regions also have been lifted.

In the USA, health officials have dealt with 80 probable cases, 25 of which have been confirmed in laboratory tests, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports. No one has died.

CDC director Julie Gerberding has warned that health officials need to remain on guard. The lesson of SARS, she said, ''is that our level of alertness for emerging infectious diseases . . . needs to become the new normal for us all.''

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