Tuesday, March 18
Fatal Asian outbreak could be new flu strain
Marin Independent Journal, March 17, 2003

A deadly, mysterious respiratory illness spread largely among health care workers in Asia could be a new strain of flu or even an exotic virus passed from animals to people, a health official said yesterday.

Probably the most feared by health experts, however, would be a new and deadly strain of flu.

The illness, which carries flu-like symptoms, has killed nine people - seven in Asia and two in North America. Its rapid spread in southeast Asia in recent weeks caused a rare worldwide health alert to be issued on Saturday.[...]

Experts discounted the possibility that terrorism is the source and believe it almost certainly is a contagious infection that spreads most easily from victims to their doctors, nurses and families through coughing, sneezing and other contact with nasal fluids.

"Nothing about that pattern suggests bioterrorism," said Dr. Julie Gerberding, head of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.

Officials said they are encouraged that some recent victims seem to be recovering, although they are unsure whether that is because of the many antibiotic and antiviral drugs they have been given or simply the natural course of the disease.

Heymann said three or four patients had stabilized enough to be moved out of intensive care yesterday in Hanoi, Vietnam, although all still had breathing problems.

The illness is being called "severe acute respiratory syndrome," or SARS. The incubation period appears to be three to seven days. It often begins with a high fever and other flu-like symptoms, such as headache and sore throat. Victims typically develop coughs, pneumonia, shortness of breath and other breathing difficulties. Death results from respiratory failure.

The World Health Organization has been aware of the outbreak for about three weeks but issued its global alert this weekend because of concern that the illness would spread to North America and Europe.

The WHO estimates that perhaps 500 people in all have been sickened if an earlier outbreak that peaked last month in Guangdong province in China turns out to be part of the same disease, as they suspect it is. [...]
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