he latest outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) in China, with eight confirmed or suspected cases so far and hundreds quarantined, involves two researchers who were working with the virus in a Beijing research lab, the World Health Organization (WHO) said on Monday (April 26).
“We suspect two people, a 26-year-old female postgraduate student and a 31-year-old male postdoc, were both infected, apparently in two separate incidents,” Bob Dietz, WHO spokesman in Beijing, told The Scientist.
The woman was admitted to hospital on April 4, but the man apparently became infected independently 2 weeks later, being hospitalized on April 17. Both worked at the Chinese Institute of Virology in Beijing, part of China's Center for Disease Control.
At a news conference in Manila this morning, Associated Press reported, WHO Western Pacific Regional Director Shigeru Omi criticized the laboratory's safeguards and said the authorities did not know yet whether any foreigners had been carrying out medical research in the facility and had since left the country. Laboratory safety “is a serious issue that has to be addressed,” he said. “We have to remain very vigilant.”
China has level three research guidelines and rules in place for handling the SARS virus, which are “of acceptable quality” to WHO, Dietz told The Scientist. But “it's a question of procedures and equipment. Frankly we are going to go in now a take a very close look,” he said