Bu-lat-lat (boo-lat-lat) verb: to search, probe, investigate, inquire; to unearth facts

Volume 3,  Number 23              July 13 - 19, 2003            Quezon City, Philippines


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U.S. Among 5 Countries With Highest Number of SARS Cases

If the United States could lie about the weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) in Iraq, could it be that it lied about the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), too? Latest figures show that the U.S. ranks among five countries with the highest number of SARS cases.


Despite the general decline in the number cases of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) infection, many issues regarding the deadly virus are surfacing. Foremost are the culpability of the superpower in the emergence and spread of SARS and the actual number of SARS patients in the U.S.


China, where the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) virus is believed to have originated, now points its finger to the United States.

While being faulted for making the SARS disease worse, China claimed that the virus originated in the U.S. through an article published in the May 6 edition of the Hong Kong newspaper Wenweipo.

Titled "Earliest SARS outbreak suspected in U.S.," the article cited reports by the Associated Press (AP) and Reuters regarding a 45-year-old woman who reportedly became seriously ill on February 9, 2002 while taking part in her mortgage company's annual sales convention near Philadelphia. The woman allegedly complained of headache, fever, chilling, vomiting and shortness of breath—all symptoms of SARS—the day before she died in an unnamed hospital in Philadelphia.

Seven of more than 80 persons examined who have had contact with the woman were confined in the same hospital for further observation. The hospital in fact underwent a short-term quarantine procedure.

The Wenweipo report implied there was a cover-up since there was no thorough follow-up report on the case.

Dr Anwarul Haq, head of the Pathology Department at the Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences (PIMS), said that “the outbreak of SARS as medical terrorism being supported by the influential media is hatched to safeguard U.S. interests by weakening the potential rivals of US policies in the region.”

Even some British academics in Cambridge believe that the U.S. started the SARS epidemic as an act of biological warfare. Reports said “the argument runs that the virus was released in China by the U.S. government in retaliation for the Chinese position on Iraq.”


The World Health Organization (WHO) defines SARS as “an atypical pneumonia of unknown aetiology, recognized at the end of February 2003.” The respiratory illness has been widely reported in recent months in Asia, North America, and Europe.

Studies traced the virus to Guangdong, China last November where a local merchant came down with the first case.

As a precautionary measure, WHO classified the countries as low, medium and high in the transmission of the disease.

The Philippines, which recorded a total of 14 probable cases of SARS, was described by WHO in an advisory last May 9 as among the “worst-hit places.” The Philippine government filed a formal complaint with WHO after the announcement resulted in travel bans to the country by several nations.

On the other hand, WHO lists the U.S. as having 75 cases of probable SARS infection, much higher than the Philippines’. Yet, no advisory listed the U.S. as among the worst-hit areas. In fact, on May 1, WHO dropped the U.S. from its list of countries with recent local SARS transmission. The Philippines on the other hand was declared SARS-free only on May 20, 20 days later than the U.S.

What is more disturbing however is the discrepancy in the number of SARS cases listed in the U.S.’ Centers For Disease Control (CDC) and Prevention and WHO.

While the latter only has 75 cases in its list, the CDC has a total of 422, which would make the U.S. one of five countries with the highest number of cases. The others are China (including Hong Kong), Taiwan, Singapore and Canada.


The small number of SARS cases in the WHO website is due to the U.S.’ reclassification of probable SARS victims.

Since its first case of SARS in March, CDC has adopted a different system of categorizing patients showing SARS symptoms.

Symptoms of SARS include fever (measured temperature greater than 100.4°F [>38.0°C]), headache, body aches, dry cough and/or shortness of breath in a person who has either traveled to an affected area or has had close contact with a suspected SARS case.

Using these symptoms, CDC came out with two classifications: suspected and probable cases. “Suspected cases” include those with the fever and cough and have recently traveled to SARS-affected areas in China, Hong Kong, Vietnam, Singapore, Canada and Taiwan or contact with suspected patients. “Probable cases” are those who have already developed pneumonia.

The U.S. is the only country that uses such a classification system. The WHO website, under a heading of “cumulative number of case(s),” posts the 75 cases which corresponds to the number of CDC’s “probable cases.”

Meanwhile, the CDC website posting shows that SARS cases are spread in 43 states.  The bulk of cases are in California (80), New York (50), Washington (32), Massachusetts (22) and Florida (22).

Even by using the much lower figure of 75 probable cases, U.S. will only be two ranks lower than where it is supposed to be--in the 4th place--, with 5,327 cases in the mainland China, 1,755 in Hong Kong, 671 in Taiwan, 250 in Canada and 206 in Singapore.

As of July 11, WHO reports 8,437 cumulative SARS cases, 813 deaths and 7,452 recovered patients. Thirty-two countries are affected.

Poor health system

In an AP report, Dr. Alonzo Plough, public health director for Seattle-King County, Washington, admitted that the U.S. battle against SARS is partly a matter of luck.

He said “critically important things are not being done” and health departments in the U.S. are already struggling to deal with bioterrorism, and now with more common biological threats.

Likewise, Dr. Craig Smith of the bioterrorism committee of the Infectious Disease Society of America disclosed that the whole U.S. medical delivery and public health system does not have easily expandable capacity.

Even U.S. Health Secretary Tommy Thompson, reported by Reuters, once said that “there are likely to be deaths from SARS disease in the U.S. later this year.”

When asked by reporters in Brussels on his confidence on U.S. mortality with SARS virus, Thompson said, “I am not confident at all. I think you will see more.”

Meanwhile, the Manila-based Health Alliance for Democracy (HEAD) voiced out the same complaint.

“The health infrastructure from national to regional and local are far from ideal and severely incapacitated to respond to our country’s existing health problems,” it said in a recent statement regarding SARS.

HEAD added that tuberculosis (TB) and other ordinary pneumonias persist to be top killers in the Philippines despite already known causes, cures and prevention.

It argued that too much politics and budget misappropriations—P9.9 billion for health while P48.6 billion for debt service—cause the “devolution” of the health service.

“The SARS scare can well be relieved if we see policy changes in the right direction: Money for health, not for debt service; money for medicines not bullets; money for the Filipino people’s health and the well-being of its caregivers,” it said.

“SARS or no SARS, it is the responsibility of the government to ensure the health of its people, including hospital workers charged with their care,” HEAD asserted. Bulatlat.com

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