- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 22, 2003

A Loudoun County woman is one of three Virginians who may have contracted an emerging illness that has killed 10 persons and afflicted hundreds around the world since February, health officials said.
The woman, who visited China in early February and spent several days in a Leesburg, Va., hospital later that month, has recovered. She has been out of the hospital for more than three weeks, officials said.
Another unidentified person from central Virginia has also recovered, the Virginia Department of Health announced yesterday.
A third person remains in a Chesapeake hospital.
Officials at Loudoun Hospital Center, where the woman was treated, recognized they were dealing with the mystery illness even though they treated her several weeks before the World Health Organization issued its March 14 alert about the illness, called Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS).
Public health officials monitored the woman and those who came in contact with her, and determined that she had not spread the illness.
The Loudoun County woman had traveled to Guandong province in China in early February. She returned to Virginia and developed a flulike illness. When her sickness persisted for a week without improvement, a family member took her to the hospital.
An admitting nurse inquired about international travel, and the woman explained about her China trip. She also said there were people in that region who had recently contracted an unexplained illness.
Hospital officials investigated and quickly uncovered reports from China about a deadly pneumonia, hospital spokesman Tony Raker said. The woman was placed in isolation and intensive care.
"The initial Chinese bulletins were somewhat scary," Mr. Raker said. "They were touting it improperly as a killer pneumonia."
Doctors treated the woman's symptoms, which included a cough and fever, and the disease ran its course, Mr. Raker said.
Patient confidentiality prevented health officials from identifying the patients, but all three experienced flulike symptoms, and each had traveled recently to Asia.
State health commissioner Dr. Robert Stroube said the general public is not at risk.
"The only people who could potentially be at risk are health care workers caring for patients with SARS and close family contacts," he said.
World health officials believe that SARS originated in February in China. It has made 350 people around the world ill and killed 10 persons in the past three weeks, according to WHO figures.
Health officials do not know exactly what causes the illness, although a virus is suspected. Because the exact cause is not known, it has been impossible for state health officials to conclusively determine whether the three Virginia cases are SARS.

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