|03-14-2003, 01:11 PM||#1|
Flu Virus in Hong Kong Triggers Regional Panic/Health Agency Probes Mysterious Illness
Flu Virus in Hong Kong Triggers Regional Panic
Fri Mar 14,11:14 AM ET Add Health - Reuters to My Yahoo!
By Tan Ee Lyn and Carrie Lee
HONG KONG (Reuters) - Singapore and Taiwan warned residents on Friday to avoid unnecessary trips to Hong Kong after finding more cases of a mysterious, highly contagious flu that killed one man and infected more than 90 people.
As health authorities scrambled to identify the virus, Hong Kong said there was no sign that the disease was linked to terrorism.
"As far as we are aware, there is no indication of any linkage between the recent pneumonia cases and terrorist attack," a spokeswoman from the Hong Kong Security Bureau told Reuters.
Health officials in Singapore advised people not to travel to the southern Chinese province of Guangdong or the Vietnamese capital of Hanoi, where 32 people were being treated at the Vietnam-France hospital, which had to be closed.
The French Ambassador to Vietnam, Antoine Pouillieute, told reporters another nine people had been hospitalized at a nearby hospital in Hanoi, and that two of those nine people were in critical condition.
France was flying in four doctors and a biologist on Saturday to help Vietnamese authorities with the problem, he added.
In Thailand, immigration officials are closely monitoring visitors from China, Hong Kong and Vietnam for signs of infection, but it has not warned its citizens from traveling to these places.
In Hong Kong, a territory of nearly seven million people, health department officials said the virus had spread to several hospitals and a private clinic, infecting nearly 50 people, mainly medical staff. Two are in serious condition.
Health officials said the disease had not spread to the community at large, and medical staff appeared most at risk.
"We are not talking about any outbreak in the community," Health Minister Yeoh Eng-kiong told reporters.
But frightened residents who live near the hospitals took no chances, sweeping surgical masks off the shelves of pharmacies.
The World Health Organization (news - web sites), which issued a global pneumonia alert this week after flu outbreaks in Hong Kong and Hanoi, is sending an expert to Hong Kong to help identify the virus and determine the source, a government spokeswoman said.
But a WHO spokesman in Beijing said China had not requested help, saying their own scientists would solve the problem.
An outbreak of severe pneumonia in China's Guangdong province in mid-February infected 305 people, killing five, but it is not known if these cases are linked to those in Hanoi or Hong Kong.
Health authorities in Hong Kong, Taiwan and Singapore scrambled to identify the virus. Hong Kong officials say it could be a new or mutated virus spread rapidly human-to-human by coughing or sneezing.
The victims were mainly healthcare workers, who initially showed flu-like symptoms that quickly deteriorated into pneumonia.
The man who died, a 50-year-old American businessman, had flown from Shanghai to Hong Kong and then to Hanoi, where he was admitted to the hospital with severe respiratory problems. He was flown back last week to Hong Kong, where he died on Thursday.
In Singapore, six people were admitted to the hospital on Friday for pneumonia. They had been in close contact with three other people who were admitted on Thursday after returning from trips to Hong Kong at the end of February.
In Taiwan, a businessman fell ill with signs of pneumonia after returning at the end of February from China's southern city of Shenzhen. The man's wife has also reported similar symptoms.
The travel warnings will be a blow to Hong Kong's long-suffering economy, which is only beginning to recover from the Asian financial crisis of 1997-98. A recent surge in tourist numbers had been one of the few bright spots for the economy.
"If the incident is prolonged and new cases surface, the impact will be great. It'll be disastrous," said Joseph Tung of the Travel Industry Council of Hong Kong.
[This message was edited by Max on 03-16-03 at 05:21 PM.]
|03-16-2003, 02:21 PM||#2|
Health Agency Probes Mysterious Illness
Health Agency Probes Mysterious Illness
Sun Mar 16,11:17 AM ET Add Health - AP to My Yahoo!
By DANIEL YEE, Associated Press Writer
ATLANTA - Federal health officials said Sunday they are analyzing samples from a mysterious pneumonia-like illness that has afflicted more than 150 people in seven countries and caused nine deaths. Doctors hope to have initial results from testing early this week.
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Officials also are handing out information cards to travelers from countries where the disease has appeared, asking them to see a doctor if they experience symptoms such as high fever or respiratory problems.
"This is an evolving problem," Dr. Julie Gerberding, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (news - web sites), said Sunday. "We want to keep our mind to new information as we learn more."
No cases had been identified Sunday in the United States, although the CDC had received calls about potential cases that are being investigated, Gerberding said.
Two people who had been in this country are believed to have developed the mysterious illness. A doctor from Singapore was taken off a New York-to-Singapore flight in Germany on Saturday and quarantined, and a woman, hospitalized in Canada with similar symptoms, had traveled to Atlanta on business shortly before becoming ill.
Little is known about the disease, called Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome.
More than a week after it began appearing, health officials still didn't know if it was a virus or bacteria. CDC officials said it appears to affect only those in close contact with infected people - family members and health care workers - from afflicted areas, countries that include China, Indonesia, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.
Gerberding said doctors are unsure whether antibiotics or antiviral drugs have an effect on the disease since they have not been consistently used in the areas with the most cases.
Although the CDC is keeping "an open mind" about bioterrorism, Gerberding said the mystery illness appears to be naturally occurring.
"Right now, it's an issue for travelers returning from parts of Asia, we're not seeing a spread" in the United States, Gerberding said Sunday. "We've taken steps to put the health system on alert."
Gerberding said the CDC is working to get more samples for its labs to analyze. Tests could take several days, but officials said they hope to have initial results ready by early this week.
The CDC's emergency operations center - which previously handled the 2001 anthrax attacks and last year's explosion of the West Nile virus (news - web sites) - has been activated to coordinate a multinational effort in learning about the new disease.
On the Net:
CDC information: www.cdc.gov/ncidod/sars
World Health Organization (news - web sites) information: www.who.int/en/