SARS Outbreak Readies China For Flu Cases

In preparing for swine flu cases, China is putting to use its experience with the SARS virus.

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LOUISA LIM: This is Louisa Lim in Shanghai. China has yet to report any suspected cases of swine flu, but a World Health Organization official in Beijing says its quite well-prepared. Monitoring is in place at airports and the authorities are vowing full-disclosure if any cases of swine flu are found.

This is one of the lessons China learned from its initial cover-up of the outbreak of the respiratory disease SARS in 2003. That delay hampered the fight against SARS, which claimed 774 lives, mostly in China and Hong Kong.

In Hong Kong where memories of SARS are still fresh, the authorities have put in place very tough health security measures. Theyve announced all schools will shut down if just one student falls ill with swine flu. And theyre preparing holiday camps to quarantine patients. Anyone who returns from flu-affected areas with a fever will be quarantined. So far, four people in Hong Kong are being tested for swine flu after showing symptoms.

Chief executive Donald Tsang said Hong Kong would rather take extra steps than lower its guard. Hong Kong residents have already been lining up at pharmacies to buy face masks and medical supplies. And scientists in Hong Kong, drawing on their SARS experience, are working to create a faster diagnostic test for swine flu. Their test will take as little as four hours compared to the one to two days which are now necessary.

Elsewhere in the region, South Korea has quarantined one woman it says is a probable case.

Louisa Lim, NPR News.

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