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Mystery flu flares up in Hong Kong apartments

©Associated Press

April 1, 2003

HONG KONG -- Health officials sealed off an apartment building and quarantined all 240 residents Monday after reporting an alarming jump in new cases of a mystery flulike disease.

More than 600 people in this city are believed to have the dangerous respiratory infection, and almost half of those live in the Amoy Gardens apartment complex. Officials reported 92 new cases in the complex on Monday, making the total 107.

Severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, has prompted officials in Asian countries to enforce little-used quarantine laws, close schools and impose new health screenings on travelers.

The disease, which has no proven treatment, also spread in other areas, such as Singapore and Toronto.

Doctors and nurses in Singapore donned respirator suits designed for handling germ warfare attacks to treat SARS patients.

In Canada, which has declared a health emergency, Toronto authorities reported that at least two children had been hospitalized with the disease, and three others were showing symptoms of it. But they would not give details.

Worldwide about 60 people have died, at least 15 of those in Hong Kong. Government officials are pondering setting up quarantine centers if the disease cannot be contained.

The World Health Organization said Monday that experts hope to pinpoint the cause soon, and signs continue to point the coronavirus, which causes about one-fifth of all colds.

Hitoshi Oshitani, the WHO coordinator for SARS, said he thinks scientists will determine the cause soon, possibly within days.

"But this doesn't mean we will find the specific treatment for this disease within the short time period," he said.

In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Saturday that no current drugs were working against the disease.

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