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N.Y. Joins 10 Other U.S. States With Suspected SARS Cases

15 people in U.S. have possible symptoms of the deadly global respiratory illness.

THURSDAY, March 20 , 2003 (HealthDayNews) -- The number of suspect cases of a deadly global respiratory illness in the United States rose to 15 Thursday after New York City health officials said that they had two possible cases there.

The New York announcement brings to 11 the number of states now reporting people who may have symptoms consistent with severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS). The illness has killed 15 people and sickened more than 600 in 10 other countries.

A 67-year-old man is in hospital isolation in stable condition and a 27-year-old woman was treated and is now home, a New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene statement said.

The health department statement was quick to add that neither person had been in contact with a Singapore surgeon, who briefly attended a medical conference in the city last week and is now a confirmed SARS case quarantined in Frankfurt, Germany.

" Both individuals traveled to Guangdong province in China and to Hong Kong, where there have been several suspected cases of SARS, between late February and mid-March," the statement said. New York City health officials declined further comment Thursday.

Elsewhere in the country there were these reports:

  • Three people in California appear to have symptoms, according to an updated U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention health list, which boosted the number of potential U.S. SARS cases to 13 Thursday. The list, posted on the CDC Website, did not include the two cases announced in New York.
  • Among the California victims was an unidentified L.A. man who took ill March 11 shortly after returning from a visit to Vietnam, Hong Kong and China, the Los Angeles Times reports. Also sickened was his child, who was hospitalized earlier this week but has now largely recovered, the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services said.
  • In New Mexico, a patient from Albuquerque, who recently returned from Hong Kong, was in a hospital's respiratory isolation unit, state health officials told the Associated Press.
  • In Virginia, state health officials said there was one case in the Hampton Roads area, but withheld other details, the Washington Post reports.
  • In Hawaii, state health officials were investigating two cases: a Kauai resident who had traveled to Hong Kong and a hospital staff member who came in contact with her. Both women have recovered and were released from hospital after experiencing relatively mild illnesses, the Honolulu Advertiser reports.
  • And in northern New Jersey, state health officials report that a 36-year-old woman was discharged from an undisclosed hospital earlier this week after being hospitalized for two weeks following a trip to Asia, the Newark Star-Ledger reports.
  • The five other states now listed by the CDC for suspected cases are: Maine, Massachusetts, Tennessee and Wisconsin, each with one case, and North Carolina, with two.

The CDC's updates of its potential-cases list mimic the ebb-and-flow of case reports elsewhere in the world. All of which makes the global head count of victims appear ever-shifting.

The official number of SARS victims was 306, according to a World Health Organization (WHO) tally Thursday. Its official death list of 10 included: five deaths in Hong Kong and two in Canada, along with a French doctor and nurse and an American businessman they had been treating in Hanoi, Vietnam.

But the WHO list does not include five deaths and 300 illnesses in a similar outbreak in China's Guangdong province that ended in February.

Outside of mainland China, the highest tolls are in Hong Kong, with 173 cases; Vietnam with 62, and Singapore with 34. There are 11 cases now being reported in Europe. And Canada has 9.

At a news conference Wednesday, CDC officials talked about what was known about the U.S. cases, only 11 at that time.

"The 11 people have a travel history, fever and respiratory symptoms, which are part of the case definition," Dr. Julie Gerberding, the director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), told the news conference.

All are on what is being called "an active evaluation list," and some may turn out not to have SARS, she added.

"There is a lot we still don't know. The investigation is still under way," Gerberding said.

But part of the mystery is beginning to become clear. World health officials are zeroing in on one Hong Kong hotel as the apparent site of the outbreak.

The Hong Kong health department reported that seven of those infected, including two who died, apparently stayed on the ninth floor of the Metropole hotel in the Kowloon peninsula between Feb. 12 and March 2.

Among the guests was a 78-year-old Toronto woman who died March 5 and a 64-year-old medical professor from China's Guangdong province, who died March 4, according to the Toronto Globe. The guests also included three young women from Singapore, and a person from Hong Kong whose illness spread to dozens of workers at the Prince of Wales Hospital, the AP reports.

At Wednesday's conference, the CDC said health alerts are now being issued to anyone who has entered the United States directly or indirectly from the Hong Kong area of eastern Asia, which includes travel by plane, cruise line, or commercial shipping vessel.

Much of the interest is now focused on reports out of three countries that a common virus showed up in specimen samples taken from some of those now hospitalized with SARS.

Three laboratories in Germany and Hong Kong on Wednesday identified particles of the paramyxovirus, which is a family of viruses that cause measles, mumps and respiratory diseases. On Thursday, Singapore scientists also identified the same virus in one of the SARS cases there, news reports said.

Two of the specimens in which the virus was found were taken from the Singapore surgeon and his mother-in-law in Frankfurt.

The surgeon had attended an infectious disease conference at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in New York City before he, his wife, and his mother-in-law boarded a Singapore Airlines plane headed to Singapore. All three were quarantined during a stopover Saturday in Frankfurt.

While New York City officials earlier this week said the doctor's visit did not appear to put anyone else in danger, housekeeping crews at the hotel were ordered to use gloves when cleaning rooms and stripping beds.

On Wednesday, Gerberding said, "Folks who stayed at that hotel should be very reassured," because so far the window of infection time seems to have been too wide. However, she didn't rule out the possibility that they could become infected.

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization have updates and information on SARS.

SOURCES: March 20, 2003, New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, news release; March 19, 2003, teleconference with Julie Gerberding, M.D., CDC director, Atlanta; U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention statistics; Los Angeles Times; Washington Post; Toronto Globe; Newark Star-Ledger; Honolulu Advertiser; Associated Press; The New York Times
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