SARS virus can survive for weeks outside body - WHO


There is growing concern today over the resilience of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) after new research has emerged which shows that the SARS virus is more resilient than first thought and can survive for weeks outside the human body.

The SARS virus can survive for hours on common surfaces outside the human body, and up to four days in human waste, according to the research carried out in laboratories in Hong Kong, Japan and Germany.

At sub-zero temperatures, such as in a regular refrigerator, the virus showed only "minimal reduction" after three weeks.

"It's the first time we have hard data on the survival of the virus. Before, we were just speculating," Klaus Stohr, WHO's top SARS scientist, told the Washington Post.

Scientists found that the disease persists in adult faeces for six hours but in human diarrhoea for up to four days. This could explain the disease's spread in a 33-storey apartment building in Hong Kong where hundreds were infected.

The good news is that standard disinfectants such as chlorine bleach killed the virus in five minutes, WHO found.

SARS has killed some 450 people around the world and more than 6,400 probable or confirmed cases have been reported from more than two dozen countries.

Hong Kong and Canada appear to be gaining the upper hand in the battle against SARS but the situation in China remains alarming. Just eight new cases of SARS were reported in Hong Kong on Sunday, the 10th straight day the number of new cases has declined and the first time it has fallen into single digits in over a month.

Canada, meanwhile, reported just one new "probable" case of the disease yesterday, bringing further hope that the outbreak in the country has been brought under control.

In China, where 197 people have died of SARS and more than 4,000 cases have been reported, there were reports on Monday of further unrest related to the disease.

The Jianghuai Morning Post said more than 100 farmers, enraged that a SARS quarantine center would be set up in their community, attacked a government office in eastern China and beat up officials.

The riot occurred overnight Saturday as the farmers gathered outside a government office in Zhejiang province's Yuhuan county, the paper said.

After surrounding the office for several hours, dozens of farmers stormed inside, ransacking three rooms and beating up three officials, the paper said.

In another development in China on Monday, the official China Daily reported that most of Beijing's 80 reservoirs have been put under isolation to prevent the SARS virus from entering the city's water supply.

It said swimming, fishing and other recreation activities had been halted in the latest measures enforced by the government to prevent the spread of SARS.

All entertainment venues have been shut in Beijing, indoor sports banned and schools closed.