Report: SARS Likely Spread Through Sewage Pipes

A SARS patient with diarrhea infected other people in a Hong Kong apartment complex as the disease apparently spread into homes through a sewage pipe linked to poorly sealed water drains, an official report said Thursday.

Also Thursday, India, the world's second most populous nation, confirmed its first case of severe acute respiratory syndrome -- a man who recently visited Hong Kong and Singapore.

Universities in Beijing canceled some classes, and officials in both China and Singapore said economic growth would slow as a result of the flu-like illness.

SARS has killed at least 166 people worldwide, out of more than 3,000 infected. Symptoms include fever, shortness of breath, coughing, chills and body aches.

Mainland China and Hong Kong have reported 65 deaths each. Singapore has 15 SARS deaths, Canada 13, Vietnam five, Thailand two and Malaysia one.

The outbreak at Hong Kong's Amoy Gardens apartment complex has been the most alarming in the former British colony, where the disease has infected 1,297 people. Four new deaths and 29 new cases were reported in the territory Thursday.

About 40 percent of the 324 SARS cases at Amoy Gardens occurred in one building, called Block E. The disease was brought to the building by an infected man who visited his brother there on March 14 and March 19, Health Secretary Dr. Yeoh Eng-kiong said.

As more people came down with SARS, contaminated feces spread the virus into bathrooms through malfunctioning seals between a sewage drain and water pipes. Fans apparently helped suck the virus particles into homes, he said.

The disease apparently also was spread through person-to-person contact and possibly by rats and cockroaches, Yeoh told a news conference.

"They were just passive, mechanical carriers," Yeoh said, adding that rats captured by the investigators did not come down with SARS symptoms.

In India, officials said a 32-year-old man in the west coast state of Goa caught SARS after traveling to Hong Kong and Singapore. India's government has been slow in imposing screening of airline passengers from SARS-affected countries.

Air travel has been instrumental in spreading SARS around the globe. Singapore has begun scanning incoming air passengers for fever using military-grade heat sensors adapted for the war on SARS, while Hong Kong is taking the temperature of anyone boarding a plane.

Malaysia, meanwhile, lifted restrictions imposed last week on tourists from China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Vietnam and Canada because it is satisfied with efforts in those places to contain SARS, an official said.

In Beijing, universities canceled activities and some classes to prevent the spread of SARS, breaking with earlier official insistence on continuing public events as China fights the disease.

For the first time, China's government said the outbreak could hurt the nation's economic growth, echoing projections by private economists.

"SARS, for sure, will have an influence on the economy's performance in China," said Yao Jingyuan, an economist at the National Bureau of Statistics. He added it was "too early to make any forecasts."

But private economists have cut projections of China's economic growth this year by up to 1 percentage point, citing the impact on airlines and other industries amid international warnings to avoid travel to affected areas.

Singapore drastically cut its economic growth forecast for 2003 on Thursday because of SARS and announced a $130 million relief package to help the economy weather the outbreak.