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Mysterious Killer Pneumonia Spreads

Cases of Respiratory Illness Multiply Across Southeast Asia, Canada

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Based on that broad definition of the illness, Gerberding says the center has received reports of 14 persons in the U.S. who meet that criteria and are currently being evaluated, but none of those cases have been confirmed.

Gerberding says that because the cause of the illness has not been identified, the CDC recommends that doctors treat the condition as they would any other unexplained pneumonia case, including treatment with antibiotics.

WHO says the first cases of the unknown disease were identified on Feb. 26 in Hanoi, Vietnam and then rapidly spread to Hong Kong, Singapore, China, and Thailand. Over the weekend, a group of seven cases was confirmed in Canada, and two died. All of the Canadian cases were among two extended families in which at least one member had recently traveled to Hong Kong within a week of developing symptoms.

One of those Canadian family members recently visited Atlanta in early March and was reported to have developed symptoms of the illness as she left the U.S. to return to Canada. The Georgia State Health Department is currently investigating the possibility of exposure to the illness among her American contacts and co-workers.

Gerberding says symptoms of SARS seem to appear within seven days of exposure, and they are reassured by the fact that none of the Canadian's contacts in Georgia have developed symptoms.

"There is no evidence that people without direct contact with an infected individual are at risk," says Gerberding, who also spoke at today's briefing.

She says the illness seems to be spread only through direct, face-to-face contact, and there is no evidence to suggest that the disease may be spread through casual contact.

The WHO say most of the cases have occurred in people who have had very close contact with other known cases, and more than 90% of those who have become ill with the condition are health care workers.

A doctor from Singapore who treated a patient with SARS in Singapore also became ill after attending a medical conference in New York City. The individual boarded a flight from New York to Frankfurt, Germany and was transferred to an isolation unit in Frankfurt as soon as the flight landed on March 15.

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