- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 15, 2003

ATLANTA, March 15 (UPI) — U.S. health officials Saturday said they have joined a worldwide effort to stamp out a deadly form of pneumonia that killed at least five people in Asia and has spread to Europe and North America.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said it alerted health authorities nationwide to watch for signs of severe acute respiratory syndrome, a virulent strain of what is known as atypical pneumonia.

Based in Atlanta, the federal health agency also deployed eight of its scientists to assist the World Health Organization in its worldwide investigation. No cases have been identified in the United States.

"The emergence of two clusters of this illness on the North American continent indicates the potential for travelers who have been in the affected areas of Southeast Asia to have been exposed to this serious syndrome," said Dr. Julie L. Gerberding, CDC director.

Gerberding said the CDC was participating in the investigation to understand the cause "of this illness and how to prevent its spread."

Hundreds of people in mainland China, Hong Kong and Vietnam have come down with severe acute respiratory syndrome that prompted the World Health Organization Saturday to warn that the illness, which has killed at least six people, was becoming a worldwide health threat.

Also on Saturday, an ill passenger and two family members, who were traveling from New York to Singapore, were removed from their flight at a stop in Frankfurt, Germany, and taken to a hospital. German officials said the passengers were taken off a Singapore Airlines flight and admitted to the Wolfgang Goethe University Clinic in Frankfurt.

There was concern that the ill passenger may have infected others on board. In a statement, German health officials said another 155 passengers who deplaned in Frankfurt were being temporarily held in quarantine at the airport.

Eighty-five passengers and 20 crew bound for Singapore continued their journey, but will be quarantined on their arrival in Singapore.

After the passenger was hospitalized in Germany, New York health officials alerted hospitals to watch for symptoms of a deadly pneumonia believed to have affected the doctor from Singapore who visited the city.

In a statement, the New York City Department of Health said the physician from Singapore traveled to New York to attend a conference. He arrived on Wednesday and had minimal contact with others, departing Friday.

The physician is currently in stable condition, the department said.

It was also established that with the exception of two family members traveling with him, he had minimal contact with other people during the two days he was in New York, and attended the conference for a few hours.

"This syndrome … is now a worldwide health threat," said Dr. Gro Harlem Brundtland, the WHO's director general. "The world needs to work together to find its cause, cure the sick, and stop its spread."

The health agency said the number of people in Hong Kong suffering from a mysterious flu-like illness has risen to at least 47. And eight more of those were diagnosed with atypical pneumonia on Saturday, bringing the number of seriously ill people to 37.

The sickness in Hong Kong has primarily struck hospital workers and forced hospital officials to increase infection control measures to prevent the spread of the disease. So far, no link has been found between these cases and an outbreak in Hanoi, Vietnam.

A similar outbreak of atypical pneumonia has hit about 20 health care workers in Hanoi. Last month, a mysterious pneumonia outbreak in China's Guangdong Province killed five people, affected more than 300 people and caused widespread panic.

"Until more is known about the cause of these outbreaks, WHO recommends patients with atypical pneumonia who may be related to these outbreaks be isolated," the health agency said in a statement. The agency also said cases have been reported in Canada, Indonesia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand.

The disease appears to begin with flu-like symptoms, and in some cases progresses to what is known as atypical pneumonia, the agency said. It is characterized by high fever and respiratory symptoms such as cough, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing.

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