The World Health Organisation said the world should be free of the deadly SARS virus within the next two to three weeks, but warned the disease could emerge in China again next winter. "All countries are probably now going to be SARS-free within the next two-to-three weeks. SARS will be gone, we believe, from human populations," says WHO.
Taiwan and Toronto -- the only two areas still regarded as zones where the disease could be transmitted -- to be given a clean bill of health by the first week of July.
Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), which is believed to have jumped from animals to humans in southern China late last year, has killed more than 800 people worldwide, infected some 8,500, trimmed economic growth forecasts and cost billions of dollars in lost businesses.
Hong Kong and China, which were the most severely affected, were given the all-clear by WHO this month and Taiwan and Toronto, Canada, are expected to follow soon.
"If these two countries have no reintroduction or no new cases then by the first week of July all countries should be off the list and therefore we can say that transmission has been interrupted in human populations,"said WHO officials.
They also said the WHO was still clarifying with the Taiwanese government when health officials there had isolated their most recent case.
Countries are removed from the WHO's list of areas of SARS transmission when they have gone for 20 consecutive days without reporting a new case, twice the time it takes for the disease to develop in humans.
The WHO says that Taiwan's last SARS patient was isolated on June 15. "This is the period of the greatest danger as was shown in Canada, which exited the list of affected countries and then had another peak. The word now is vigilence."
However there is a risk the disease could once again be transmitted to human populations from animals in southern China in November or December of this year.
The one thing no one knows is whether it will be cyclical or whether it will occur seasonally!