Suspected SARS Case in China

China on Saturday announced its first suspected SARS (search) case since July, saying the patient was hospitalized in the southern province where the virus is believed to have originated.

The man, a 32-year-old television station employee, checked into a hospital in the southern city of Guangzhou (search) on Dec. 20 with a headache and fever, the official Xinhua News Agency said. It said the man was transferred Wednesday to a quarantine ward and declared a suspected case of severe acute respiratory syndrome on Friday.

He was listed in stable condition Sunday, a government official said.

"It will take several days to make the final diagnosis," said the official from the anti-SARS office for Guangdong province. The official gave only his family name, Wei.

He said it wasn't clear if the patient's family or friends would have to be quarantined.

Meanwhile, health departments throughout China were stepping up anti-SARS measures.

The capital Beijing, which was hard-hit by SARS earlier this year, ordered airport and railway stations Sunday to tighten health checks on travelers and to send anyone with a high fever to a government-designated hospital, Xinhua reported.

The World Health Organization (search) and health authorities in Hong Kong, which borders Guangdong, said earlier that China had informed them of the suspected case.

Guangzhou is the capital of Guangdong province, where the world's first known SARS case was recorded in November 2002.

The pneumonia-like viral disease has sickened nearly 8,100 people worldwide, including 774 who died, according to the WHO. Most of the cases happened late last winter and spring. SARS killed 349 people on China's mainland and sickened more than 5,000.

The government said in July the mainland's last 12 patients had been declared free of the disease.

WHO officials have recently been warning of a possible resurgence of the disease in flu season, and appealed for foreign aid to help China improve its disease warning and research.

Health officials in Guangdong, contacted by telephone, refused to comment. They referred questions to the information office of the provincial Communist Party branch, which didn't answer telephone calls.

But a WHO spokesman said China's Ministry of Health (search) notified the agency on Friday that a journalist in Guangzhou might be suffering from the flu-like disease.

The man, from Panyu in Guangdong, has not traveled abroad or to neighboring Hong Kong, said Dr. Lam Ping-yan, Hong Kong's director of health.

Guangzhou officials said initial tests showed the man has SARS, but that more would be conducted over the weekend, Lam said.

Lam said Hong Kong has stepped up monitoring of travelers arriving from Guangzhou, which borders Hong Kong.

In Italy, officials said Saturday that they were resuming medical checks at Milan's Malpensa airport and Rome's Leonardo da Vinci airport for direct flights from China. The checks will involve questionnaires and body temperature tests, which can give signs of the illness.

Italy introduced similar checks at the height of the SARS emergency earlier this year, but later scrapped them after the disease came under control.

Earlier this month, neighboring Taiwan announced that a 44-year-old military scientist who worked with the virus had become its first SARS case in five months. Taiwanese health authorities said Friday that they had taken the scientist's wife and father off an observation list after they showed no symptoms.