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Lung Disease & Respiratory Health Center

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Mysterious Killer Pneumonia Spreads

Cases of Respiratory Illness Multiply Across Southeast Asia, Canada


Investigators say the disease seems to spread only through close contact with an infected individual, such as having lived with, cared for, or having had direct contact with respiratory secretions and body fluids with a person that has it.

The WHO defines a case of the mysterious illness as someone with:

  • A fever of greater than 100.4 degrees;
  • One or more of following respiratory symptoms: cough, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing;
  • And either close contact with a known SARS case or a history of travel to one of the affected areas within the last 10 days before the emergence of symptoms.

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.

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