SARS now suspected in 14 cases statewide
By CANDACE RONDEAUX, Times Staff Writer
TARPON SPRINGS -- State health officials have added a Pinellas County man to the state's growing list of suspected cases of severe acute respiratory syndrome.
The 41-year-old Pinellas man and a 1-year-old Collier County girl were placed on the list Wednesday, pushing the total number of suspected SARS cases in Florida to 14. Both patients had recently traveled to Asia.
"The fact that we are only reporting 14 cases is very good news for Florida," said state epidemiologist Steven Wiersma.
Officials said they could not release the names of the two new patients.
The Pinellas County man was brought to Helen Ellis Memorial Hospital by ambulance Tuesday afternoon after his temperature rose above 100.4 and a private doctor detected other SARS-like symptoms.
Emergency medical personnel were told in advance that the man could potentially have SARS and took extra precautions to guard against infection, said Peter Moberg, a spokesman for University Community Health, the parent organization of Helen Ellis.
Moberg said he could not release details about the patient's condition or how long he would be kept at the hospital. But state health officials said his symptoms were not severe and they expect him to recover.
EMS workers and hospital staffers who came in contact with him wore masks, protective robes and took other standard precautions.
The patient is being treated in an isolation room specially designed for people with contagious illnesses, Moberg said. He said the hospital was otherwise operating normally.
Because there is no official test for SARS, doctors at Helen Ellis had to make sure the patient's symptoms were not the result of another illness such as viral pneumonia or influenza. State health officials are investigating any case in which a patient shows SARS symptoms and has traveled to China, Hong Kong, Hanoi or Singapore, where the disease is spreading.
Symptoms of the illness include a fever above 100.4, coughing, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing.
State officials also are keeping an eye on people who have come in contact with anyone suspected of having SARS, and have asked the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta to expedite testing of four people in Alachua County, Wiersma said.
"We've been very concerned about the potential for transmission there," Wiersma said.
As for the Collier County girl, state health officials said Wednesday they have not seen any SARS-like symptoms in the adults who traveled with her to Asia.
People who have had contact with the Pinellas patient have been told to stay home if they begin to have SARS symptoms within 10 days, said Pinellas County Health Department spokeswoman Elaine Fulton-Jones.
"People should be very diligent about washing their hands, just as they would to prevent flu and colds," Fulton-Jones said.
County health officials have received information about six potential SARS cases in Pinellas during the past two weeks. Doctors ruled out SARS in five of the cases.
County emergency management and medical directors were contacted late Tuesday about the patient at Helen Ellis. The county Health Department also sent out letters to about 700 Pinellas County medical professionals that told them how to recognize the illness and what they should do if they suspect a patient has SARS.
So far, the CDC has reported 193 suspected SARS cases in the United States, but no deaths.
Since its outbreak in November, SARS has killed at least 154 people worldwide, and stricken more than 3,234 people in two dozen countries.
Severe acute respiratory syndrome
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's latest definition of SARS includes these criteria:
A temperature measured above 100.4 degrees.
A cough or difficulty breathing.
Exposure to someone who is a suspected SARS sufferer, or travel to an Asian county affected by SARS. The CDC has issued a travel advisory recommending that people avoid any non-essential trips to Hanoi, Vietnam; mainland China; Hong Kong; and Singapore.
For information, check online at: http://www.doh.state.fl.us/PHNursing/SARS/SARSindex.html
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From the Times state desk
From the state wire