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No SARS impact in Clayton County

By Ed Brock

Nobody's afraid of the big, bad SARS at the China Caf? in Riverdale.

"I've not had one guest ask about that situation," said Patrick Wong, manager of the restaurant on Ga. Highway 138. "But business has been slow the past month. I don't know if it's the war or what."

The spread of severe acute respiratory syndrome in locations like China, Singapore, Hong Kong, Vietnam and Taiwan hasn't impacted business at the AAA Auto Club and Travel Agency on Mt. Zion Road in Morrow, AAA Division Manager Lisa Weaver said.

"We had a large group that cancelled that was supposed to go to China. Most people have just changed their destinations or gone anyway," Weaver said, adding that those countries aren't common destinations anyway. "I was thinking that Toronto might have some fallout but we've not really had any problems."

And while University of California at Berkley has asked summer exchange students who come from countries where SARS is most prevalent to stay away, Clayton College and State University has not had to make that decision. Most Chinese students in the United States are in graduate programs and Clayton College doesn't offer graduate programs, college spokesman John Shiffert said.

Meanwhile the SARS situation in Georgia remains stable while the epidemic in the rest of the world continues to grow more complex.

There have been only six suspected cases of SARS in Georgia and one probable case, Georgia Department of Human Resources spokeswoman Barbara Joye said. Three of the cases occurred in the Atlanta area and none were fatal.

"The good thing is we are not aware of any transmission of the disease locally," Joye said. "All seven people had travel histories in affected countries."

The World Health Organization said Thursday it had revised the global death rate from the disease sharply upward to 14 to 15 percent.

The WHO, which had previously put the rate at 6 to 10 percent, said age appears to be a key factor in surviving SARS, with less than one percent of SARS patients aged 24 or younger dying, compared to more than 50 percent for those over 65.

The WHO revisions, released in a statement on its Web site, also said the SARS death rises to 6 percent for those 25 to 44 and 15 percent in those 45 to 64.

WHO said studying only those cases where the patient has died or made a full recovery could skew the figures while the outbreak is still continuing because the average time from illness to death is shorter than the average time from illness to recovery.

Its own method takes account of the length of time for which patients have survived ? looking at the risk of dying in the first week of illness, the risk in the second week, and so on. WHO said this gave a death rate of 14 percent in Singapore and 15 percent in Hong Kong.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention so far puts the death rate at 6.6 percent.

Another difficulty in the study of the syndrome is that there is contradictory information on the causes of SARS, said Clayton College Professor of Biology Greg Hampikian who has been following newspaper reports of the epidemic. For example, in one report it was stated that the coronavirus suspected of being a cause of the disease was found in 20 percent of an experiment's control group.

"There may be more than one infectious agent that determines at least the severity of the disease," Hampikian said.

Other factors such as genetics and available health care can affect the severity of the disease, Hampikian said.

The U.N. health agency extended a SARS travel warning to Taiwan and to two more Chinese provinces, and Russian officials ordered airlines and cargo carriers to suspend reservations on flights to mainland China, Hong Kong and Taiwan.

In the United States, thousands of customs and immigration inspectors were being trained to spot SARS symptoms and were ordered to detain those who exhibit them as part of attempts to prevent a U.S. outbreak. Symptoms include high fever, dry cough and breathing trouble.

Homeland Security Department spokesman Dennis Murphy said 22 major U.S. airports would have public health officials on site.

Hartsfield Atlanta International Airport is one of eight permanent quarantine airports in the United States with Centers for Disease Control personnel on staff all the time, CDC spokeswoman Karen Hunter said. For the past two months they have been distributing Health Alert Cards to passengers on direct and indirect flights inbound from mainland China, Hong Kong and Hanoi, Vietnam.

"And if someone is actually showing symptoms of SARS they will go aboard the plane and assess the passengers," Hunter said.

Patients showing symptoms are quarantined in area hospitals and all passengers returning from the three countries mentioned above are asked to monitor their health for 10 days. There is also a travel advisory for people bound for Toronto urging them to avoid possible locations of transmission of the disease such as hospitals.

More information on CDC alerts and advisories are available at www.cdc.gov.

Severe acute respiratory syndrome has battered China's economy, as travel bans and warnings not to visit have affected airlines, hotels and other travel businesses. Private economists have cut their forecasts of China's economic growth this year ? projected at 7 percent by the government ? by up to 1.5 percentage points.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.