GUANGZHOU, China (AP) – China reported another death from severe acute respiratory syndrome and revealed yesterday that fatalities in recent weeks have been more widespread than previously reported.

Paul Wong
AP PHOTO
Citizens in downtown Hong Kong wear surgical masks yesterday to guard against SARS. Hong Kong has had 883 SARS cases.

In the country’s south, international experts were researching whether the mystery disease might have come from animals on farms or in the wild.

The country’s death toll was 53, state television reported, citing the Health Ministry. That included 43 deaths in the southern province of Guangdong, where experts suspect severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, originated, it said. More than 2,300 people have been sickened worldwide.

State television reported one SARS death each in the provinces of Shanxi in the north, Sichuan in the west and Hunan in central China – the first reported fatalities in those areas and an indication the disease was more widespread than previously acknowledged.

China previously reported fatalities in Guangdong, Beijing and the Guangxi region to Guangdong’s west.

China’s government has faced mounting criticism at home and abroad that it has released information about SARS too slowly.

“It would have been much better if the Chinese government had been more open in the early stages,” World Health Organization Director-General Gro Harlem Brundt said Sunday in New Delhi, India.

WHO experts searching Guangdong for clues to how SARS spreads and why it kills were studying whether it might have come from animals.

The team has not yet found clear evidence supporting the theory, but its members met with animal-health officials and discussed both farm animals and wildlife, including pigs, ducks, bats, rodents, chickens and other birds, said team leader Robert Breiman.

Experts have linked SARS to a new form of coronavirus, other forms of which usually are found in animals. Coronavirus is the virus family that causes the common cold.

That link “may suggest that it originates from animals,” Breiman said. He said, “the discussions today were inconclusive, so we really don’t have clues.”

The team, in Guangdong since Thursday, is meeting with doctors and scientists, visiting hospitals and reviewing medical records.

“Atypical pneumonia is a disaster. There is no precedent for something like this,” said Huang Huahua, the governor of Guangdong, who met yesterday afternoon with the WHO experts.

On Sunday, China’s Health Ministry reported six SARS deaths. That included Pekka Aro, an International Labor Organization official who died Sunday in a Beijing hospital.

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