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WHO Drafts Rules on SARS

Noting that poor plumbing helped spread the SARS virus in apartment complexes in Hong Kong earlier this year, the World Health Organization said Friday it is drawing up guidelines on improving environmental hygiene in the design of buildings.

The UN health agency said the decision followed a meeting of experts to examine the role of bad plumbing and sewage systems in the spread of infectious diseases.

"In many countries there will be buildings where keeping sewage separate from building occupants is a critical challenge," observed Dr Jamie Bartram, head of WHO's Water, Sanitation and Health Program.

"This could result in harmful viruses, including the SARS coronavirus, being sucked from the sewage system into the home if, for example, there are strong extractor fans working in a family's bathroom," he said.

"Fortunately, solutions are simple and already in place in most areas, but there remain places where shortcuts in design, construction and maintenance continue to compromise safety," Bartram said.

The meeting, held in Rome, examined lessons learned from the SARS epidemic and considered risk assessment and management tools to be prepared for future outbreaks.

It drew up concrete measures and regulatory frameworks for the prevention of "fecal droplet transmission" of disease-causing viruses, said a WHO statement.

A Hong Kong government report earlier this year said the SARS outbreak at the apartment complex, which eventually sickened 324 people, spread through the plumbing after water droplets contaminated with the virus were sucked out of bathroom drains into apartments by ventilation fans.

(China Daily September 28, 2003)

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