The World Health Organization removed the first country from its list of local transmission sites, a sign that the worldwide spread of the SARS virus may be receding.

WHO officials have removed Vietnam from the list of countries that are seeing Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome transmitted between contagious infected individuals within its national population. Officials said they have carefully monitored Vietnam’s involvement in the worldwide spread of the mysterious disease and there have been no new reported cases of SARS in the country since April 8.

“Vietnam has stopped the outbreak within its borders,” Dr. Pascale Brudon, a Vietnam WHO representative, said in a statement.

Vietnam was one of the four original countries identified by the WHO as having the SARS virus within its borders March 15. Countries the WHO did not label as having local transmission typically only had SARS cases developing in individuals who had traveled to or from countries with local transmission.

Vietnam was particularly successful in preventing the spread of the disease by promptly identifying victims of the virus and swiftly quarantining and treating them and by communicating openly with health authorities around the world.

In a press conference April 24, U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention director Dr. Julie Gerberding said she was pleased with the overall cooperation of numerous world agencies in containing the disease.

“I think the most remarkable aspect of this entire SARS response has been the ongoing high-caliber collaboration among all partners. We are actually extremely fortunate here domestically to have this kind of information exchange, and it truly is helping us prepare ourselves for any situation where we would need to invoke stronger measures or more comprehensive measures at containment to protect citizens in the United States,” Gerberding said.

While U.S. and world organizations may have worked together to quell a possible outbreak of the virus, not all governments have been forthcoming.

Beijing government officials fired Beijing’s health minister and mayor for covering up the severity of the SARS outbreaks in their towns.

Peter Choy, a businessman visiting Madison, said his wife and children are living in Shanghai, where hospital officials won’t tell citizens the latest developments and schools have been closed indefinitely. Choy said he couldn’t believe world media organizations were not widely publicizing the secrecy with which some governments have dealt with the disease.

Nonetheless, the apparent containment of the disease in Vietnam and the decrease in new cases in recent weeks in Toronto may be signs of the end of the SARS crisis.

David HeyMann, executive director of the WHO’s Communicable Disease Cluster, said in a public address that he hoped other countries with SARS victims would follow Vietnam’s lead and that he was “pleased that other countries in [Vietnam's] region with local transmission of SARS are following appropriate detection and protection measures and cooperating with each other to do so.”