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SARS in Thailand
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  1. #1
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    SARS in Thailand

    SARS scare keeps revellers at home

    Article by The Nation
    Published on Apr 9, 2003


    Almost half of Bangkok's residents will celebrate the Songkran festival in the capital due to the SARS scare while less than 0.5 per cent plan to travel abroad during the long holiday, a survey shows.

    The Bangkok University poll, released yesterday, also found 76.5 per cent of the 1,190 respondents supported the ban on pressurised water guns as a safety measure during the festival, renowned for its water games.

    Respondents have also welcomed a government campaign promoting the safe splashing of water, including the ban on using colour pellets and substandard white-clay powder.

    Those polled said they agreed with the Culture Ministry's dress code during Songkran, which discourages the wearing of spaghetti-strap tops.

    Bangkok ranks as the most popular destination for water-splashing festivities (44 per cent), followed by the Central Region (23.8 per cent), the North (15 per cent), the Northeast (10.7 per cent) and the South (6.1 per cent).

    Culture Minister Uraiwan Thienthong will today launch a campaign to encourage foreign visitors to celebrate Songkran traditionally on the popular Khao San Road tourist strip.

    In Chiang Mai, provincial police have distributed tapes in 10 languages that provide tourists with guidelines on water-splashing.

    The Cabinet yesterday resolved that April 16 be a Songkran lieu day for April 13, which falls on a Sunday.

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    Quick check available from tomorrow

    Article by The Nation
    Published on Apr 9, 2003


    From tomorrow, Thais suspected of having SARS can undergo a quick diagnostic test at either Siriraj Hospital or the Medical Sciences Department (MSD).

    Dr Somsong Rakphao, director-general of the MSD, said the so-called DNA "primer", a part of the DNA fingerprint of the coronavirus, would be transferred from the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to his office tomorrow. The coronavirus has been identified as the causative agent of SARS.

    The World Health Organisation (WHO) on Monday finished sequencing the DNA of the deadly virus. The primer - produced by the CDC - will be distributed to all countries with probable SARS cases.

    Somsong said that after receiving the coronavirus primer, doctors would extract DNA from the phlegm of suspected patients for comparison. The results would be known within seven hours, he said.

    "If the virus found in patients has the same DNA structure as the primer it means they have the virus," said Somsong.

    However, he admitted that results were not 100-per-cent accurate.

    Somsong said it was not difficult to conduct the test since every medical school and medical laboratory has the technology to identify DNA, but that working with the virus's primer required high bio-safety standards. According to Somsong, only the laboratories at Siriraj Hospital and the MSD conformed to such standards.

    Prasit Palitpolkarnpim, deputy director of the National Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology, said his office could copy the coronavirus primer, and in future there would be no need to wait for the CDC to supply it.

    Meanwhile, leading virologist Wasun Chantratita, who has studied the DNA fingerprint of SARS, said it was highly likely that it mutated from a poultry coronavirus.

    "The DNA structure of the SARS coronavirus has never been seen before, but it is very similar to a poultry coronavirus," he said.

    Pennapa Hongthong

    THE NATION

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    'King of bitters' herb not a cure

    Article by The Nation
    Published on Apr 9, 2003


    "King of bitters" is only good for boosting the immune system - not for not curing SARS, the Public Health Ministry said yesterday in response to news reports of the medicinal herb's power in keeping the dreaded atypical pneumonia at bay.

    On Monday, Dr Somsong Rakpao, director-general of the Medical Sciences Department, told the press that people should consider taking the bitter-tasting herb with the scientific name of Andrographis paniculata together with a vitamin C supplement to ward off the common cold or influenza.

    However, an alarmed public misconstrued the expert's advice into believing it might also be just as potent against SARS, leading to a rush on fah talai jon, as it is known to locals.

    "Sales of fah talai jon have doubled here this morning," said Thawal Suwantaymee, the proprietor of Chao Khum Per, a traditional Chinese apothecary in Bangkok.

    Another shop put a news clipping about Somsong's advice on display apparently to boost sales of the herb.

    The plant helps the body expel phlegm and wastes, meaning that it activates immune-system and disease-elimination processes, said Dr Wichai Chokewiwat, director-general of the Department of Traditional and Alternative Medicine Development.

    So does vitamin C, he added.

    But it could not be said that the herb is effective in treating SARS because scientists have not even been able to pin down the exact cause of the mysterious disease yet.

    Somsong yesterday cited some studies - both local and international - in reiterating that fah talai jon really could stimulate the immune system as well as internal organs playing a role in the disease-excretion process.

    "It can be an alternative even though it remains unproven," he said, adding that he had not been trying to convince the general public to consume the herb more than necessary.

    The total number of local SARS cases remains at seven, including two deaths, with no local transmissions reported so far, the Public Health Ministry said.

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    Explanation to Taiwan

    Article by The Nation
    Published on Apr 9, 2003


    The Labour Ministry has sent a letter to the Taiwanese government explaining that Thailand did not have a hidden agenda when listing Taiwan as a SARS-infected area, a senior official said yesterday.

    The move was in accordance with the World Health Organisation's (WHO) announcement that included Taiwan in its list of SARS-infected areas, the letter said.

    The letter was issued in response to remarks from Chen Chu, chairwoman of the Council of Labour Affairs, which threatened to stop hiring workers from Thailand in retaliation, said Nakhon Silpa-archa, director-general of the Employment Department.

    Nakhon said despite Chen's threat, Taiwan has yet to lower the quota of job placements for Thai workers in Taiwan.

    The Labour Ministry itself does not forbid workers from going to work in Taiwan. Lately, the ministry has approved the placements of another 2,000 workers in Taiwan.

    Nakhon added he also told the director of the Office of Economic, Trade and Taipei Culture - which represents the Taiwanese government in Bangkok - to correct Chen's misunderstanding about the Thai government's intention.

    Sihasak Puangketkaeo, director-general of the Foreign Ministry's Department of Information, said the Taiwanese government should ask the WHO to remove Taiwan from its list. "Then the Thai government could remove the country from our list as well."

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    Cremation of victim stopped by hysteria

    Article by The Nation
    Published on Apr 9, 2003


    Over 100 demonstrators in Hat Yai yesterday stopped the cremation of a SARS victim at a local temple for fear that it could spread the virus.

    Despite assurances from the authorities that SARS cannot survive for more than a couple of hours after death and the cremation would completely kill the virus anyway, the protesters refused to allow the ceremony in their neighbourhood.

    Lam Yim Cheung, 78, a Hong Kong national, died at the Prince of Songkhla Hospital in Songkhla's Hat Yai district after being diagnosed with SARS. His body was scheduled for cremation at Khoknao Temple, opposite the hospital, at 1pm yesterday.

    People in the neighbourhood rallied against the cremation in front of the abbot's residence and their fervent protest resulted in the body was taken back to the Prince of Songkhla Hospital.

    Han Chanthong, a Khoknao Temple committee member, said protesters were afraid that the cremation could spread the virus in the community. Moreover, the temple was too close to Hat Yai city centre, and they wanted the body cremated elsewhere.

    Songkhla's deputy governor Bunyasit Suwannarat - along with Dr Weerasak Jongsoowiwatwong, epidemiologist at Prince of Songkhla Hospital, and his medical team - rushed to the temple to convince protesters that the cremation would not spread the deadly virus.

    Dr Weerasak said the cremation would in fact eradicate the virus completely. Lam's body would be cremated at 1,000 degrees Celsius, he said, a sufficiently high temperature to completely destroy the disease.

    "Moreover, after the infected person died, the virus would also die in two to three hours. And more importantly, we've wrapped the body with plastic sheets five times. So, we believe the virus cannot leak from the body," he said.

    Weerasak's explanation failed to convince the protesters, however.

    At the same time, Dr Kamol Weerapradit, director of Hat Yai Hospital, disclosed that after monitoring Lam's relatives for seven days, the hospital had found no signs of infection.

    The hospital's medical team agreed that Lam's relatives could be released from hospital within the next two days, said Kamol.

    In Ratchaburi, the medical staff at Bhotharam Hospital on Monday took Lam's brother and sister-in-law - Eng Kheng and Sam-ang Limcharoen - back home after monitoring their condition for 14 days and pronouncing them free of infection from SARS.

    Despite being cleared by the hospital, Eng said he would not go out for fear of rejection by his neighbours.

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    SARS around the region

    In PANIC Mode

    Article by The Nation
    Published on Apr 6, 2003


    Singapore

    Schools will remain closed for nine more days as a precaution against SARS and to give teachers training in safeguarding students. The government is “using this additional time to manage the education efforts on SARS”. The island-state has the world’s fourth-highest number of cases, but the infection rate has slowed sharply, with only one person coming down with the disease on Friday, bringing the total to 101.


    Malaysia

    Kuala Lumpur announced yesterday it was freezing the intake of students from China, Hanoi, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore and Toronto because of the SARS outbreak. The government also asked Vietnam to stop sending its labourers because of SARS fears.


    Australia

    Qantas staff were trying to contact 310 passengers who were on a flight QF094 from Los Angeles to Melbourne on March 30 with three children suspected of having SARS. Staff began telephoning the passengers to warn them to watch out for symptoms of the illness over the next few days. Doctors and nurses were posted at major airports yesterday to monitor travellers for SARS, armed with the power to quarantine people with suspected symptoms.


    New Zealand

    Thousands of tertiary students studying in Auckland have been asked by education authorities to reconsider their plans to return home for the Easter break to prevent the deadly atypical pneumonia virus from spreading to New Zealand. Auckland University of Technology asked students to consider postponing trips home to countries affected by the flu-like virus that has so far killed 83 people and infected more than 2,500 worldwide, the New Zealand Herald said yesterday. More than 80,000 overseas students are enrolled in New Zealand schools and tertiary institutions, with almost half from China and Hong Kong – the countries worst hit by the health crisis.


    France

    A second case of SARS has been confirmed in France, according to the head of the infectious disease section of the University Hospital in Strasbourg. The patient, a 54-year-old doctor, travelled on the same plane from Hanoi, Vietnam, with the man who was the first confirmed SARS sufferer in France. The condition of that patient, a 65-year-old cardiologist, has worsened.


    United States

    SARS has not made it to San Francisco’s Chinatown yet, but nervous locals in the famed landmark aren’t taking any chances. In the past 10 days residents of the world’s best-known Chinatown have cancelled planned trips to Asia en masse and snatched up thousands of face masks.

    Residents and traders in Chinatown – many of whom have close relatives in friends in panicked Hong Kong and southern China, which are the focus of the mysterious illness – are only too well aware of its dangers.


    Vietnam

    The spread of the disease was thought to be in check, but authorities quarantined a doctor suspected of catching SARS from a patient, along with 43 others with whom he had contact.

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    A killer virus that discriminates only against mere mortals

    Article by The Nation
    Published on Apr 9, 2003


    I refer to your article a few days ago "Putting SARS into proper perspective" [page A4, April 2]. As a resident of Hong Kong I would comment that it seems Thailand has one rule for some and one rule for others.

    I note that Lee Kuan Yew is coming to Thailand from SARS-infected Singapore: no doubt he is immune to SARS as it only affects non-VIPs (according to the Thai government) and will not be subjected to health tests, temperature tests and stethoscope tests awaiting other mortals at the Thai borders, and I presume he will not have to wear an "unclean" sign and mask.

    I also note a female Thai MP visited Hong Kong and came back to Thailand and then went off, I believe, to Singapore. Did she undergo the airport tests like normal mortals, or does she also have the VIP gene that kills SARS and therefore has immunity to the virus? We know from research at the University of Hong Kong Microbiology Lab that the virus has a life of two to three hours on surfaces, so I guess she did not touch anything whilst in Hong Kong. Magic.

    I read also in the local press that the Thai health authorities at Don Muang kept 747-loads of passengers rubbing shoulders in a corridor waiting to be screened to make sure that if they did not get touched or breathed on up to that point by possible SARS carriers during their journey, the close-proximity wait to be screened would help to convey the virus to them.

    Since the virus can enter the body through your eyes or when you touch your face inadvertently, it seems a mask that can stop droplets but cannot screen virus-size particles is of little use anyway.

    James Middleton

    (ORDINARY MORTAL)


    SARS vs Songkran: keep it in perspective

    I am happy to see the rigorous measures being taken at Don Muang International Airport to stop SARS from spreading into Thailand.

    This gives me the impression that the government is very keen on public health and on protecting Thai citizens and residents from any health risks.

    Next Friday sees the start of the Songkran holiday, infamous for the carnage on Thailand's roads. Last Songkran holiday 564 people were killed on the roads, and another 37,473 were injured. Although any death is a tragedy, the two confirmed SARS deaths (as of Friday April 4) pale into insignificance next to these figures.

    As the Songkran holiday road-death toll rises each year, I wonder whether it is too late this year for the government to act and try to prevent another Songkran holiday massacre on Thailand's roads.

    Jessica Watson

    CHON BURI

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    'No need for face masks'

    Article by The Nation
    Published on Apr 8, 2003

    The government is urging people not to panic about the outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) in Asia, saying it is safe to go out without face masks.

    "I don't want to see our whole nation becoming unnecessarily worried about an illness that has not been spreading here," Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra said yesterday.

    He also said he hoped people would celebrate this year's Family Day outdoors as normal, as the government had organised many events at Sanam Luang and nearby to run from yesterday until April 15.

    Family Day falls on April 14 each year and is considered part of the Songkran festivities.

    Public Health Minister Sudarat Keyuraphan confirmed that there had been no outbreak of SARS here and said people could go about their lives as normal. She said her ministry's stringent measures at airports and border checkpoints had effectively ensured that SARS did not spread into the country.

    "We've turned away all those with symptoms similar to SARS. We won't let them come in," she said.

    Currently, there is just one patient - a Taiwanese tourist - with SARS in the country, while two others with SARS-like symptoms are under medical observation.

    "Reports about dozens of others are groundless," Sudarat said. "The 43 people who were suspected of being infected with SARS were found to have just caught a common cold."

    The health minister also called on media agencies to check their information with her ministry before publishing anything which could turn out to be nothing more than rumour.

    She did, however, warn people to continue to avoid countries in which SARS is a danger, namely China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Vietnam and Singapore.

    Commenting on Pekka Aro, the International Labour Organisation official who died in Beijing on Sunday, Sudarat confirmed that he did not catch the disease in Thailand although he did stay here from March 21 to 23.

    "He was healthy here, but started developing symptoms after five days in China," she said.

    Sudarat was keen to stress that Thailand is safe and people are free to go out without face masks, even in department stores and crowded areas.

    "You'll need the masks only when you're in places where there are lots of foreigners, like airports and hotels," she said.

    Meanwhile, a tourism adviser for the Samui Tourism Promotion Association said local tourists were making room reservations for the Songkran holidays, after many potential foreign visitors had cancelled following the SARS outbreak.

    "Overall, Samui might experience a drop in its tourism business, but it's not that serious," Narin Praneekij said.

    He added that hotel operators on Samui were cooperating by keeping an eye out for guests with flu-like symptoms.

    Dr Somsong Rakphao, director-general of the Medical Science Department, said the United States' communicable-disease control agency was to send chemical solutions used to detect SARS to Thailand on Thursday.

    "We have prepared three labs for the SARS tests and should be able to start conducting them by Friday," he said.

    He added that each test takes two hours to determine whether a patient is developing SARS symptoms.

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    HAT YAI DEATH: Victim's relatives 'healthy'

    Article by The Nation
    Published on Apr 8, 2003

    Officials declare brother, sister-in-law of victim from Hong Kong free of virus

    RATCHABURI - Health officials have given a clean bill of health to the relatives of a Hong Kong national who died of SARS in Songkhla's Hat Yai district.

    Health Ministry inspector Rewat Wirutwet said yesterday Narong and Sam-ang Limcha-roen, the brother and sister-in-law of the dead man, Lam Yim Cheung, showed no signs of SARS.

    The couple's daughter, whose name and age were not revealed, was also declared SARS-free.

    The family was yesterday visited by members of the media at Photaram Hospital, Ratchaburi, where they have been quarantined for the past two weeks.

    Rewat urged neighbours of the family not to discriminate against them, adding that ministry officials would speak to the villagers in an attempt to allay any fears.

    He said nurses who had looked after the family had faced discrimination from colleagues.

    Sam-ang said she feared villagers would reject her family when they returned home.

    Before being quarantined, she said, the family had to close its food business after being rebuked by villagers when news of her relative's death was aired on television.

    No one would sell her food or talk to her when she went to the market, while her daughter was left friendless.

    "I hope that after the officials have explained things to my neighbours, they will have me back," she said.

    After the press conference Rewat took the couple back to their home in Tambon Don Sai, where villagers were waiting to welcome them home without surgical masks.

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    Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS)

    Thailand is not among the countries affected by SARS as identified by the WHO and there has not been any report of infection in the country.Dr Carlo Urbani, who died on Saturday from SARS in a Bangkok hospital, was infected in Hanoi where the WHO specialist first identified the disease.

    At the international airport in Chiang Mai, immigration officials have been alerted to seek assistance from the Center for Disease Control Region 10 Office, the Chiang Mai Provincial Health Office and the Nakornping Hospital in case of symptomatic travellers.

    AHRN and the conference secretariat is receiving health advisories related to SARS on a daily basis.

    For the latest information and Thailand travel advisories related to the SARS, visit:

    Ministry of Public Health - Thailand: http://eng.moph.go.th/index.asp

    World Health Organisation: http://www.who.int/csr/sars/en/

    Center for Disease Control: http://www.cdc.gov/ncidod/sars/

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