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http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml=/news/2003/04/26/usars.xml&sSheet=/portal/2003/04/26/ixportaltop.html

Sars more deadly than WHO believes, warns expert
(Filed: 26/04/2003)  Telegraph

The Sars virus causing panic across the world could be more deadly than first thought, according to a leading expert.

 
 
 

Prof Roy Anderson, of Imperial College London, found that the pneumonia-like illness could kill between eight per cent and 15 per cent of those infected, the BBC reported.

Prof Anderson, who is considered one of the leading authorities on infectious diseases, is expected to publish the results in a medical journal next week.

His findings are at odds with the World Health Organisation (WHO) which has said the virus has a death rate of between five and six per cent.

Prof Anderson's study, based on about 1,400 deaths that have occurred in Hong Kong, also found that Sars remained infectious much longer than other viruses.

His comments came as officials announced the deaths of a further three people from severe acute respiratory syndrome, which has killed at least 281 people and infected more than 4,600 worldwide.

Prof Anderson told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "If one looks carefully at the WHO figures on mortality and recovery rates, it is running, unfortunately, at 10 per cent."

But he said that some of the "doom and gloom predictions" about the spread of the disease had been exaggerated. He said that Sars was not a highly infectious disease and that in the developed countries it had been brought under control.

However, he said that concerns remained about highly populous Third World countries with only limited health control measures.

"I think the doom and gloom predictions have been rather exaggerated. This is not a highly transmissible infection," he said. "It has been effectively contained in most of the developed countries in the world with a very limited number of cases.

"The concerns really lie in the large populous regions of the world, China, Indonesia, where the disease reporting systems are to some extent limited. It is much less clear what is going on there."

He said that lessons still had to be learned about how best to prevent the spread of Sars. "We have got a long way to go to learn how clinically to better manage this disease," he said.

The WHO said that it could not judge Prof Anderson's comments without seeing his report.

But Dick Thomspson, a spokesman for the WHO's communicable disease section, said: "We have not seen the report so we could not comment except to say that this is a top-class professional and any figure he commits himself to is likely to be close as possible to accurate."

A spokesman for the Department of Health said: "I do not think we have been specific about what the death rate might be...because we have not had any deaths in this country. It is a matter for the WHO.

"The key thing for us is getting the best expert advice that we can when monitoring the disease and so far we feel we have done everything possible to keep close tabs on it. It seems to have worked in the six cases in Britain so far."

The Government, based on WHO advice, has strongly recommended against travel to Hong Kong, Toronto and Beijing and the Shanxi and Guangdong provinces in China.

Canada's president Jean Chretien said last night he had spoken to the head of the WHO, Gro Harlem Brundtland, who had agreed to review the travel advice.

Despite widespread panic, the WHO yesterday said it felt there was still a "window of opportunity" to try to wipe out the Sars virus.

It did, however, accept that it was possible for Sars to become endemic, which would mean it would become a permanent threat.

Meanwhile, British school pupils who had been on a school trip to China have arrived home after returning to Britain early because of the Sars outbreak.

Two members of staff and 21 youngsters from Knutsford High School, Knutsford, Cheshire, had been due to return from their cultural exchange visit to Beijing tomorrow.

And Elton John has cancelled a concert in Toronto after the city's death toll from Sars rose to 19.