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Zhong Nanshan Warns of Possible Renewed SARS Outbreak
Noted Chinese medical expert Zhong Nanshan Tuesday called on officials, health care workers and the public to guard against a renewed SARS outbreak.

In an exclusive interview with Xinhua, Zhong, director of the Guangzhou Institute of Respiratory Diseases, said that the SARS epidemic on China's mainland was nearing its end, based on the analysis of how the SARS epidemic developed and ebbed in south China's Guangdong and Hong Kong.

The downward trend of the epidemic, said Zhong, should be attributed to the effective anti-SARS measures taken by the Chinese government.

"However, since large numbers of people are traveling across the country, the SARS epidemic will probably fluctuate in the future," said Zhong. "Guangdong has been taken off the list of SARS-affected areas by the World Health Organization (WHO), but Beijing must wait for a while."

Earlier, Zhong had predicted that it would take Guangdong and Hong Kong about five months to contain SARS.

"It turned out to be shorter. The number of new daily SARS cases dropped quickly to single-digit figures in Guangdong and Hong Kong," said Zhong, who is also an academician with the Chinese Academy of Engineering.

He said that it was heartening that the downward trend seemed even more pronounced in the capital.

To ward off a renewed outbreak, Zhong said the public would have to learn about personal hygiene, pay close attention to environmental sanitation and improve physical fitness. In addition, people should eliminate bad habits.

These bad habits, said Zhong, include eating without washing hands, spitting and others. The SARS outbreak has made it imperative for the Chinese people to drop these habits.

He proposed that China learn from Japan and the Republic of Korea (ROK) with respect to living habits.

"The fact that both of these countries have escaped the SARS outbreak can be largely attributed to their good habits," said the bespectacled man.

Another bad habit that should be discarded is the consumption of wild animals.

"When many species of wildlife are consumed as delicacies, ecological balance is disturbed, and we suffer the consequences," said Zhong.

Although there is no direct evidence that the SARS virus originated in wildlife, such as the civet cat or the wild boar, Zhong considers that it is probably the case.

"The genetic identity of the coronavirus detected in wildlife and that which has been found to trigger the SARS epidemic indicates the link," said Zhong.

As for the prospects for the ongoing fight against SARS, Zhong said that he was confident that SARS will be eliminated, as predicted by WHO experts.

The more contagious and deadly a virus, the greater the probability that it will be eliminated, as mankind would double its efforts to root out the virus, according to Zhong.

"However, we can't rule out the other possibility," Zhong said. "That is, that the virus could co-exist with human beings for a long time, like viruses that cause common influenza."

Zhong was here in Beijing to attend a high-level symposium held on SARS for the ASEAN (the Association for Southeast Asian Nations) members and China, Japan and the ROK.

(Xinhua News Agency June 4, 2003)

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