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WHO: Health officials must collaborate on health threats

GENEVA, Switzerland, May 22 (UPI) — International health officials collaborating staved off SARS virus 10 years ago and this is needed now, the head of the World Health Organization says.

Dr. Margaret Chan, director general of the World Health Organization, told the World Health Assembly meeting in Geneva, Switzerland, that 10 years ago the group met under a cloud of anxiety, “SARS was spreading explosively along the routes of international air travel, placing any city with an international airport at risk of imported cases.”

Less than four months after the first global alerts were issued, WHO could declare the SARS outbreak over.

“Rarely has the world collaborated, on so many levels, with such a strong sense of shared purpose. We are dealing with two new diseases right now,” Chan said.

“Human infections with a novel coronavirus, from the same family as SARS, were first detected last year in the Eastern Mediterranean Region. To date, 41 cases, including 20 deaths, have been reported. Though the number of cases remains small, limited human-to-human transmission has occurred and healthcare workers have been infected.”

At the end of March, China reported the first human infections with the H7N9 avian influenza virus. Within three weeks, more than 100 additional cases were confirmed. The source of human infection isn’t fully understood but the number of new cases dropped dramatically following the closing of live bird markets, Chan said.

“I thank China for collecting and communicating such a wealth of information and for collaborating so closely with WHO. Chinese officials have promptly traced, monitored, and tested thousands of patient contacts, including hundreds of healthcare workers,” Chan said.

“At present, human-to-human transmission of the virus is negligible.”

As was the case 10 years ago, the current situation demands collaboration and cooperation from the entire world, Chan said.

“A threat in one region can quickly become a threat to all,” she said.

Copyright 2013 United Press International, Inc. (UPI).

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