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    12 SARS cases now suspected in Florida

    Two could represent the first work-related U.S. transmission of the respiratory ailment - but no case is yet confirmed.

    ©Associated Press
    April 12, 2003

    TALLAHASSEE -- A Broward County man who traveled in Asia recently is Florida's 12th suspected case of severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, the state Health Department reports.

    The department said Friday the 51-year-old, though hospitalized in isolation, is in good condition.

    The Florida cases involve eight people who traveled in areas where SARS is prevalent -- mainland China, Hong Kong, Hanoi and Singapore -- and four who contracted it in the United States. No deaths from the disease have been reported in this country.

    A 6-year-old Okaloosa County boy apparently caught the virus from his grandmother, who recently visited Singapore.

    Steven Wiersma, epidemiologist with the department, said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta is looking carefully at two cases in Alachua County, in which SARS may have been transmitted from a worker to a co-worker. If so, it is the first U.S. example of the virus spreading in the workplace. "We're all concerned about that," he said.

    He added, however, that there is no certainty that the co-worker has SARS, and noted that health officials are using a broad definition of symptoms to ensure that no cases are missed.

    "We are not sure that transmission occurred ... in the workplace," Wiersma said. "We say it could have happened."

    He said an epidemiological team is keeping a close watch on other workers at the Alachua County business, which he declined to identify.

    Health Department Secretary John Agwunobi said none of the Florida cases has yet been confirmed as SARS.

    Wiersma said the public should be assured that "the likelihood of any transmission occurring now in the state of Florida is very low."

    Gov. Jeb Bush said in Orlando that the state would impose a quarantine on those with the disease only if absolutely necessary.

    "We have not found any case where it needs to be quarantined yet, whether it be a business or a school," Bush said. But he said those suspected of having the disease should stay in their homes.

    At Edge Elementary School in Niceville, where the 6-year-old boy who may have SARS attended classes, there were no more suspected cases reported. Parents were advised to keep their children home from school if they develop a fever, cough, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, and to take them to a doctor.

    Schools superintendent Don Gaetz said the CDC said there's no need to disinfect the school because the SARS virus cannot live more than three hours outside the human body.

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