FIRST U.S. CASE OF MYSTERY PNEUMONIA SU.S.PECTED IN LOS ANGELES
by Joe Shea
American Reporter Correspondent
Los Angeles, Calif.
LOS ANGELES, March 17, 2003 -- Los Angeles Co. Health Department officials reported this afternoon that a suspected single case of SARS, a previously unknown form of pneumonia that started in China last month and threatens to become an epidemic, has been reported here in a man who flew in from the Far East and passed through LAX last week, the agency said today.
"He traveled from the Far East and passed through Los Angeles International Airport last week. He was not hospitalized until this weekend," said Maria Iacobo, director of communications for the department. Iacobo said the man was in the United States most of last week before he went to an unnamed hospital, where he is "doing well."
The department has sent samples from the man to the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, which is working with laboratories in four other nations to identify and stop the mystery disease.
The case does not necessarily match all the parameters of the disease as it being experienced in other countries where it has struck. In the Los Angeles man's case, no health workers or family members, and apparently no one from the airplane on which he traveled, have reported symptoms of the illness.
"That's why we said it is a suspected case," Iacobo said this afternoon in a brief interview with the American Reporter.
There have been a variety of reports about the incubation period, however, ranging from a few days to a week.
Symptoms include a fever of more than 100.4 F., and one or more signs of respiratory illness such as a cough, shortness of breath, difficulty breathing, or an abnormal chest X-ray, and travel to affected countries in the Far East including China, Hong Kong, Vietnam and Singapore within seven days of the onset of symptoms. Persons suffering the combination of symptoms and travel should see their doctors and inform them of their recent travel, the department said.
The inability to identify the cause or determine its incubation has frustrated scientists around the globe who are working feverishly to prevent its spread. The atypical pneumonia, as it is called, has not been susceptible to a number of drug regimens that ordinarily are effective, according to WHO and reports from doctors corresponding with the Pro-MED tropical disease mailing list, which serves as an early warning system for epidemiologists around the globe.
The South China Post this morning reported a tenfold increase in demand for surgical masks, just one symptom of the panic that is threatening to brerak out over the illness. Singapore currently has 20 reported cases, with the last four reported yesterday.
Some 305 cases were reported in Guangdong Province, China, which is relatively close to the Hong Kong border, and in two of those cases scientists isolated the chlamydia virus as a possible cause. Further tests have not borne out that bug as the cause, however.
At the same time, the agency sought to alleviate local concern about the disease and asked authorities at Los Angeles International Airport to to take additional measures to provide surveillance for possible cases of the disease entering this country through the airport.
"The health department is working closely with LAX and port quarantine authorities to increase their level of awareness of SARS and to alert and help identify any passengers who may be experiencing symptoms of this illness. The department alerted emergency rooms throughout the county over the weekend. This alert resulted in the identification of the possible case," the release said.
The mystery illness is the subject of a rare global health warning by the World Health Organization and has claimed at least nine lives after striking at least 450 persons in China, Hong Kong, Vietnam, Thailand, Singapore, The Philippines and the cities of Toronto and Vancouver in Canada.
Hong Kong authorities almost doubled the number of cases reported Monday morning, from 49 to 95, after doing a recount of their patient load at several hospitals.