Babies born to pregnant SARS victims have breathing problems

HONG KONG (AP) - Three babies born prematurely to Hong Kong mothers with SARS have difficulty breathing and look like they may have the deadly illness although they initially tested negative, a pediatrician said Wednesday. 

The babies were delivered by Caesarian section to avoid complications from medicines used to treat severe acute respiratory syndrome and because the mothers were seriously ill, Dr. Hon Kam-lun told The Associated Press by telephone. 

All three tested negative for the coronavirus that is believed to case SARS, but Hon said they "increasingly resemble'' SARS case. It is possible the premature births also made them susceptible to health problems, he said. 

Two have a fever, which is common in SARS patients, said Hon, who teaches at the Chinese University of Hong Kong and has been monitoring the babies. 

One of the mothers, a 34-year-old, was among nine people whose deaths were reported on Tuesday, Hong Kong's biggest one-day total yet.  

The disease has sickened 1,232 people here and killed at least 56. 

The other two mothers are still alive. Hon said he had no information on their conditions, but he said they were young. 

All three mothers were taking the anti-viral drug ribavirin, Hon said, and doctors had been worried about side effects in pregnant women. 

Hong Kong doctors have been treating many SARS patients with a combination of ribavirin and steroids that they have called effective in many cases. 

But in a discouraging development, the acting chief executive of the Hospital Authority, Dr. Ko Wing-man, was quoted Wednesday as saying 10 percent to 20 percent of Hong Kong's SARS patients were not responding well to treatment. 

The story on radio RTHK that quoted Ko did not specify which types of treatment he was talking about. 

Hong Kong's health secretary, Dr. Yeoh Eng-kiong, had predicted previously that 95 percent of SARS victims - assuming they had no serious pre-existing health problems and got early treatment - would recover with help from ribavirin and steroids. 

It was not clear whether Ko's comments on patients not responding to treatment included people with other health problems or if SARS was more deadly than originally thought. Hospital officials did not immediately answer a reporter's questions. 

Meantime, Hong Kong researchers have completed a new gene-sequencing of the suspected SARS virus and said Wednesday they know it came from animals - a finding they hope will eventually lead to a vaccine. 

Researchers in Canada and the United States had previously conducted gene-sequencing tests. 

Officials have ordered quarantines of some people as Hong Kong fights back against SARS, and a policeman enforcing the isolation of one hard-hit apartment development was later diagnosed with the disease, a police spokeswoman said Wednesday. 

The male officer had helped cordone off the Amoy Gardens complex, which was extremely hard hit by SARS with about 300 cases, but he did not come into contact with any residents of the Block E building that evetually was evacuated, police spokeswoman Cynthia Au said. 

Au said it was unclear how the officer was infected. She did not know his condition.Globally, SARS has infected more than 3,000 people and at least 154 have died. 

Earlier report 

HONG KONG: As Hong Kong's toll from SARS mounted, doctors were able to save the baby of a 34-year-old pregnant woman dying of the virus, hospital officials said yesterday. 

The baby was born on April 1, according to a statement from the Princess Margaret Hospital.  

There was no information on gender or condition, but a hospital spokesman said the baby had been transferred to another hospital. 

The mother died on Monday, but her death was not reported until yesterday. 

The Chinese-language daily Ming Pao reported the baby's father had just recovered from SARS. 

The mother was one of nine deaths – Hong Kong's biggest one-day total yet – reported yesterday as the territory's toll hit 56. – AP  

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