Acquire the license to the best health content in the world
Contact Us

U.S. Now Focused on 9 Possible Respiratory-Illness Cases

'We're sitting on nine,' CDC says

TUESDAY, March 18, 2003 (HealthDayNews) -- Health officials have narrowed to nine the number of people in the United States who might have contracted a mysterious and deadly global respiratory illness.

"Nine represents the suspect cases," Von Roebuck, a spokesman for the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told HealthDay Tuesday. "We're sitting on nine. That may change based on evaluation and looking at cases."

CDC director Dr. Julie Gerberding had announced on Monday that 14 people in the United States may possibly have signs of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), but acknowledged then that only four of the cases were "under a little bit more scrutiny."

Neither Roebuck or Gerberding would say where the suspect cases are.

In a wide-ranging news conference on Tuesday, a CDC official said the search for the cause of SARS continues with no end in sight. Scientists have been working around the clock to pinpoint the illness, which has now stricken 219 people in at least eight countries -- with suspected cases in another five.

"We have a long list of organisms, including a number of paramyxoviruses," Dr. James Hughes, director of the CDC's National Center for Infectious Diseases, said.

According to wire reports, a lab in Germany has isolated a paramyxovirus in specimens taken from a Singapore surgeon and his mother-in-law in Frankfurt. Both are hospitalized, and the surgeon and his wife, also hospitalized, were confirmed as SARS cases on Tuesday. Paramyxovirus is the family of microbes that cause measles, mumps and canine distempter.

"We're going to be following with interest the results of the German investigation and will be offering assistance to them if they feel they need it," Hughes said.

Right now, he added, the field is wide open. "No agents have been eliminated," he said. "We're keeping an open mind."

So far, Hughes said, lab technicians "have looked at a broad range of bacterial and viral pathogens and have a lot of negative results, and a lot of studies are still in progress."

Some of those infected by SARS have low white blood cell and platelet counts, which might provide a clue, Hughes said.

But CDC headquarters in Atlanta had not received many specimens yet, he added.

"An increased number are on route, and hopefully we'll receive them later today and tomorrow," he said.

Meanwhile, housekeeping crews at the Crowne Plaza Hotel in New York City, site of an infectious disease conference attended by the Singapore doctor, have been reminded to use gloves when cleaning rooms and stripping beds.

The doctor left New York City on Friday to fly home to Singapore and was quarantined when he got to Frankfurt, according to news reports.

The general manager of the hotel said she did not feel there were any health dangers, even as the order for gloves was issued.

"At this point in time, we do not feel there is any threat to anyone in the hotel," Ann Peterson said Monday. Indeed, business at the Times Square hotel appeared to be brisk on Monday night.

The CDC news conference Tuesday was intended to announce the release of a new Institute of Medicine (IOM) report titled, "Microbial Threats to Health: Emergence, Detection, and Response," which calls on the United States to help beef up the world's capacity to track and respond to infectious diseases.

The report is a follow-up to another IOM document released in 1992, which highlighted complacency about infectious diseases in the United States and other developed countries, Hughes said at the briefing.

The timing of the original report, he added, was "uncanny," coming as it did just months before three major outbreaks of infectious pathogens.

The timing of the new one, however, seemed downright bizarre.

"Obviously, the committee couldn't have anticipated this beyond their urging for us all to continue to expect the unexpected," Hughes said. "SARS reinforces the need to up surveillance, the need for adequate and sophisticated diagnostic laboratories, and it's a reminder that we need a better capacity to remove diagnostic specimens from remote settings where diseases often appear."

"SARS is just the latest wake-up call," he added.

More information

The CDC and the World Health Organization have updates and information on SARS.

SOURCES: Von Roebuck, spokesman, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; March 18, 2003, news conference with James Hughes, M.D., director, National Center for Infectious Diseases, CDC; Ann Peterson, general manager, Crowne Plaza Hotel, New York City; World Health Organization statistics
Consumer News