Health officials worldwide were on alert last week following the
outbreak of a dangerous respiratory illness that has been spread,
at least in part, by travelers to and from Southeast Asia.
The cause of the illness, known as Severe Acute Respiratory
Syndrome (SARS), had not been determined as of March 19, but
physicians suspected the paramyxoviridae family of viruses. At that
point about 264 cases, including nine deaths, had been reported.
Eleven of the cases under investigation were in the United
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta last
week recommended that non-essential travel to Southeast Asia be
postponed, but the World Health Organization, which is coordinating
efforts to identify and treat the illness, said travel restrictions
were not necessary.
Tour operators serving Southeast Asia said last week that they
would continue to monitor the situation, but did not expect
In fact, Hima Singh of Asian Pacific, based in Northridge,
Calif., said that one group called last week to move up their trip,
hoping for flights to China to be less crowded.
The countries where residents or visitors were affected,
include: Canada, China (specifically, Taiwan and Hong Kong),
Germany, Singapore, Slovenia, Spain, Thailand, Vietnam, the United
Kingdom, and the United States.
Chinese officials previously reported 305 cases of an illness
that appears to be SARS, including five deaths, in Guangdong
province. That outbreak, which began in November and reportedly
ended in late February, has not been linked definitively to the
current cases, but health officials suspect it will be.
The infection appears to be transmitted person-to-person,
primarily affecting those who have been in close contact with
infected people, such as health care workers and family members.
There is no evidence of transmission through casual contact.
Quarantine officials last week were handing out information
cards at airports across the country, where both direct and
indirect flights from Southeast Asia were arriving, as well as
notifying cruise- and passenger-ship travelers from the region. A
majority of the cases have been reported in Hong Kong, Singapore
The cards list symptoms; warn travelers to monitor their health
for up to seven days after trips; and recommend that they see a
doctor, if they develop a fever with a cough or have difficulty
Airline and airport officials have been advised to watch for
passengers with symptoms, which include a fever of 100.4 degrees
Fahrenheit or higher, and a cough or breathing problems.
One floor of a hotel in Kowloon, Hong Kong, was closed for
disinfection last week, after it was discovered that seven of the
SARS victims had stayed there, between Feb. 12 and March 2. A local
resident, supposedly the “index” patient who spread the disease,
visited a friend at the hotel during that period.
Health officials said there have been no reports of illness
among the staff at that hotel, or hotels in New York and Georgia,
where infected patients stayed.