World on SARS alert again
By Anita Manning, USA TODAY
A man hospitalized last week in Everett, Wash., after returning from Beijing with a severe respiratory illness apparently does not have SARS as had been feared, the state health department says.
The quick action to isolate the man and begin testing illustrates the state of alert by the world's health authorities in response to a laboratory-associated outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome in China that has so far affected nine people.
The Washington patient, who has not been identified, has severe pneumonia, says state Health Department spokesman Donn Moyer. Preliminary tests to detect genetic markers for SARS virus or antibodies in the blood came back negative late Friday, he says. Follow-up testing will be done in a couple of weeks.
The World Health Organization says five cases of SARS in China have been confirmed, including one death, since April 22, when the illness was reported in a postgraduate student at the National Institute of Virology in Beijing. Testing is continuing on four other patients who had contact with the known cases and now have symptoms, which can include fever, body aches, dry cough and breathing difficulty.
SARS research is conducted at the virology lab, which is now closed. Its employees are under observation.
In Washington, health officials became concerned because of the patient's respiratory symptoms and history of travel to China.
"The world experience with SARS last year put this on everybody's map," Moyer says. "We're taking precautions and treating even the remotest possibility as something worth investigating."
SARS was unknown until it emerged in southern China late in 2002 and moved swiftly around the world, carried by international travelers. By the time the epidemic was over in July 2003, 8,096 cases and 774 deaths in 27 countries had been attributed to the disease. The USA had eight confirmed cases and no deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Canada had 251 cases and 43 deaths. Authorities last week began distributing health warnings at airports and other ports of entry to travelers returning from China. No similar steps have been taken in the USA, but the CDC says it is prepared to do so if SARS appears to be spreading.