- The Washington Times - Friday, March 21, 2003

WASHINGTON, March 21 (UPI) — The State Department urged American citizens Friday to defer all non-essential travel to Vietnam because of an increase in the cases of severe acute respiratory syndrome.

The alert notice said the State Department is aware of at least one American catching SARS in Vietnam. The patient is known to have traveled in the country's northern provinces.

More than 300 people have fallen ill with SARS and at least 10 have died since last week, when the World Health Organization issued a global health alert about the outbreak of the mysterious disease.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Friday reported 22 cases of SARS infection in states stretching from Maine to California.

Nine people have been infected in Canada. Two of them died.

Doctors in Hong Kong, Taiwan and Germany have identified a virus taken from the noses of some SARS patients as causing the infections.

On Friday night, the State Department issued a travel alert, warning Americans of "health concerns in Vietnam regarding an increase in the number of cases of severe acute respiratory syndrome or SARS."

The State Department has suspended official travel to Vietnam until further notice due to "reduced availability of medical facilities," the announcement said.

Several cases of SARS infection were reported from Vietnam where authorities have closed a hospital and reduced operations at two main outpatient facilities due to the SARS emergency.

Due to these developments the level of medical services in Hanoi has dramatically diminished, the State Department said.

The notice also warns Americans that no commercial airlines will transport patients with SARS.

"In order to limit possible exposure to infection, we are recommending citizens defer all non-essential travel to Hanoi and other areas of northern Vietnam close to the Chinese border," the warning said.

The alert expires June 21.

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