NEWS

‘Suspicious’ SARS case

A 36-year-old Chinese businessman is being treated at Thessaloniki’s Papanicolaou Hospital and initial tests suggest that this is the first probable case of serious acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) in Greece, Health Minister Costas Stefanis said yesterday. The man, identified as a Mr Lin from the city of Xiamen in China’s southeastern province of Fujian, complained of cold-like symptoms (including slight breathing difficulties and a fever) on Monday while visiting the northern town of Drama where he met with people involved in the marble trade. Health authorities immediately treated the case according to procedures established to deal with SARS and prevent the spread of the deadly virus. The patient and a compatriot accompanying him were transferred to Thessaloniki where they are being kept in isolation. The patient is in a negative pressure room and is in good condition, the hospital said. The other man has no symptoms and his tests have proved negative. «This time we have a really suspicious case,» Stefanis told a hastily called news conference in Athens. «Specimens were sent for testing and they turned out to be positive,» he said, regarding the ailing man. A CAT scan, though, had shown no evidence of pneumonia. The molecular tests were conducted by a team at Thessaloniki’s Aristotle University which was to take samples to the Bernhard-Nocht Institute in Hamburg to repeat the tests today. This institute first identified a previously unrecognized coronavirus – a virus family tied to the common cold – as the probable cause of SARS. Stefanis said the patient left Shanghai on June 14, arriving in Frankfurt on the 15th. The following day, he flew to Milan, Italy, and spent the night there before taking a train to Graz, Austria, before returning to Italy, where he visited Cararra, Eboli and Rome. He arrived at Athens Airport at 1.30-2.30 p.m. on Saturday, June 21, and stayed in transit before flying to Kavala and then taking a car to Drama, Stefanis said. «On Monday morning… despite having slight symptoms, he had some contacts with his partners. He did not feel well. The hotel informed the hospital and from there he went to Drama Hospital, after which the health system went into action as if this were a case of SARS,» the minister said. «This is something more than a suspect case,» Stefanis said. «Of all instances we have had so far, it is the only one that gave us positive results in laboratory tests.» The most conclusive results – following tests for antibodies in the blood – will come in about 15 days. Greece has notified the World Health Organization. The WHO yesterday lifted its warning against travel to Beijing, the last place on its SARS blacklist. Over 190 of the 850 SARS fatalities (out of 8,459 cases) were in China’s capital.