- The Washington Times - Monday, March 17, 2003

Americans are urged to avoid travel to Southeast Asia, where a mysterious flulike outbreak has killed nine persons and sickened 150 in seven countries.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta is advising that nonessential or elective travel be postponed until further notice. The World Health Organization has not recommended travel restrictions on the affected countries.
Although no cases of the atypical pneumonia have been confirmed in the United States, the CDC issued a health alert during the weekend.
The syndrome is called "severe acute respiratory syndrome" and has appeared in China, Hong Kong, Indonesia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam. Several cases also have been reported in Canada.
Officials say the illness is a naturally occurring outbreak but are not ruling out a bioterrorism attack.
"We certainly are keeping an open mind," said Tom Skinner, CDC spokesman.
Symptoms mimic influenza and include high fever, cough, headache, sore throat, shortness of breath and difficulty breathing. Health officials have not determined whether the infections are bacterial or viral.
"We don't know the cause of this, and until we have laboratory information to point this in the right direction, we cannot jump to any conclusions one way or another," said Dr. Julie Gerberding, CDC director.
The CDC is assisting the World Health Organization and is analyzing samples. It expects to have preliminary results this week.
The first case was reported Feb. 19 in Hong Kong, but the World Health Organization did not issue a global alert until Wednesday. On Saturday, the CDC issued a warning and reactivated its emergency operations center, which responded to the anthrax attacks in 2001.
"We sent notice to clinics around the country, and we've had a handful of calls about individuals being examined, but as of right now there are no reports of individuals present here with the disease we are seeing in Asia," Mr. Skinner said yesterday.
Federal officials have started distributing health-warning cards about the outbreak to travelers entering the United States from affected countries. The cards urge the travelers to seek medical treatment if any symptoms appear within seven days and to take the cards with them to doctors.
During the weekend a doctor was removed from a New York-to-Singapore flight and quarantined in Germany, and a Canadian who traveled to Atlanta after visiting Hong Kong has been hospitalized.
The Georgia State Health Department is investigating the exposure potential there among the patient's contacts and co-workers, Dr. Gerberding said.
"In addition, we are working with the airlines to assess the passengers who may have been on the plane when the individual returned to Canada to be sure that we're not overlooking an opportunity to test the illness or alert them that they need to seek medical attention should they develop a fever or other symptoms of illness," Dr. Gerberding said.
Health workers caring for patients with the disease are becoming infected, leading authorities to suspect that it is a contagious respiratory illness.

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