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Mystery virus reported in US

The World Health Organization has issued a global alert after an outbreak of a super virus.

BY DANIEL YEE | ATLANTA | March 20, 2003

The strange illness that has affected more than 250 people in Asia may have found its mark in the United States, federal officials said Thursday, reporting that 13 people in U.S. are suspected of having the illness.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Thursday that they have reported those 13 suspected cases to the World Health Organization, which has been tracking worldwide counts of the strange illness, known as "severe acute respiratory syndrome."

The W.H.O. said Wednesday there were 264 cases of the syndrome, also known as SARS, and nine deaths from it.

Dr. Julie Gerberding, director of the CDC, declined to provide details about the suspected U.S. cases or where the cases are, saying state or local health departments would release the information when it becomes available.

"I think it's very preliminary to definitively say that any of these individuals are a case of SARS because it's very early in the investigation," Gerberding said. "CDC will be providing additional information about suspected cases in evaluation in this country on our Web page as it becomes available for release."

But the CDC director did say all 13 suspected cases all had a history of recent travel to SARS -- affected areas in Asia, such as Hong Kong, Vietnam or Singapore. They also had fever and respiratory symptoms.

Three of the U.S. cases were reported in California, two are in North Carolina and one each in Hawaii, Maine, Mass., New Jersey, New Mexico, Tennessee, Virginia and Wisconsin.

Others who don't fit the W.H.O. case definition of Asia travel, fever and respiratory problems aren't likely to have SARS and Gerberding said most Americans shouldn't be immediately concerned.

Gerberding said it was an "encouraging step forward" that two patients evaluated in Germany and one in Hong Kong had been found with paramyxovirus, which some health officials in those countries have been saying as a possible identity of SARS.

But the CDC director said it was premature to know what finding paramyxovirus, a common family of viruses, in patients means in relation to their illness.

Federal officials said they were pleased to receive "a larger number of specimens" for lab testing "so that we can work in collaboration with the other scientists around the world to try to get to the bottom of this situation as quickly as we can."

The CDC on Wednesday decided to issue health alerts to passengers coming from direct flights from Hong Kong and passengers from "indirect routes of travel" from relevant areas of Asia, areas that have been affected such as Hong Kong, Vietnam and Singapore.

People on cruise liners, passenger ships and commercial shipping lines also will be alerted.

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