SARS expert called in
By Santhush Fernando and Mahangu Weerasinghe
Despite earlier claims that the flu epidemic virus in the south and Sabaragamuwa had been identified as Influenza B, health authorities are again expressing uncertainty about what it might be.

The Sunday Times learns that the Medical Research Institute has made arrangements to send samples to the University of Hong Kong for testing. Dr. Malik Peiris, the virologist responsible for the discovery of the SARS coronavirus will play a vital role in these tests.

According to the Epidemiological Unit of the Ministry of Health and other sources, the disease has so far caused nine deaths islandwide. About 80 suspected cases have been reported so far, and the people in the south and Sabaragamuwa are gripped by fear and panic, with many business and public institutions in affected areas bringing their work to a halt. Thirty patients are currently being treated in the Embilipitiya Hospital with another 21 being treated at the IDH.

A poultry farm in the Embilipitiya area was closed on Thursday as fears rose over the presence of bird flu in the area. But the Epidemiological Unit denies any connection between the closing of the farm and the spread of the mystery flu. "Tests were done and the Matara District Veterinary Officer has cleared the farm of having Avian Influenza," said Dr. Sinha Wickramasekara of the Epidemiological Unit. "It was found that the bird deaths were caused by the Avian Lukosis virus which poses no threat to humans," he said.

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