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Lung Disease & Respiratory Health Center

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New Clues on Killer Pneumonia Outbreak

Mysterious Illness Called SARS Continues to Spread, Potential Virus Identified


Gerberding says it's not uncommon to find various forms of the paramyxovirus in nasal secretions during flu season, but it is promising that this type of virus was found in more than one location by more than one laboratory at this stage of the SARS investigation.

In addition, public health officials in Hong Kong announced today that seven of the initial SARS patients had been residents on the same floor of a Hong Kong hotel in February. At least two of those people were known to have had close contact with each other and this contact may have been one of the initial modes of transmission of the disease.

Officials have closed off the affected section of the hotel and are continuing their investigation to trace the source of the outbreak.

Experts say 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 symptoms of SARS appear to develop within two to seven days of exposure.

The WHO broadly defines a case of SARS as someone with:

  • A fever of greater than 100.4 degrees;
  • One or more of the 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.

Since the exact cause of the SARS has not been identified, the CDC recommends that doctors treat the condition as they would any other unexplained pneumonia case, including treatment with antibiotics.

The WHO says 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 CDC health alert advises travelers to Southeast Asia to contact their doctor immediately if they become ill with a fever and respiratory symptoms, such as cough or difficulty breathing, within seven days of travel to affected areas. A related travel advisory also states that U.S. citizens planning nonessential travel to the regions affected by the outbreak may wish to postpone their trips until further notice.

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