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    Suspected SARS patient returns home

    Health officials say the 41-year-old's condition has improved, but he is advised to stay home for 10 days and minimize his contact with the public.

    By CANDACE RONDEAUX, Times Staff Writer
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published April 18, 2003


    TARPON SPRINGS -- A Pinellas County man suspected of having severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) was sent home from the hospital Thursday.

    Officials at Helen Ellis Memorial Hospital said doctors released the 41-year-old man after it became clear his condition was beginning to improve.

    "Fortunately for us and this gentleman's family, and for us in Pinellas County, this seems to have had a good ending," said Dr. Patricia Ryder, a Pinellas County Health Department epidemiologist.

    The patient was taken to Helen Ellis by ambulance Tuesday after his temperature rose above 100.4 and a private doctor detected other SARS-like symptoms.

    The man and a 1-year-old Collier County girl were placed by state health officials on Florida's list of suspected SARS cases Wednesday, pushing the number of possible cases in Florida to 14. Both had recently traveled to Asia.

    Officials said they could not release the names of the two patients.

    County health officials have advised the man to stay home for the next 10 days, to wear a mask when possible and minimize contact with uninfected people. They also asked his family to avoid contact with the public as much as possible during the next 10 days to help prevent transmission.

    The man's condition does not pose a serious threat to the public, said health and hospital officials, but they plan to monitor the situation until his SARS symptoms completely subside.

    "We're following up with (the man and his family) once they're at home to make sure that whatever needs to be done in terms of protecting the health of the county is done," Ryder said.

    Helen Ellis spokesman Jerry Touchton said the hospital received dozens of calls from people concerned about the hospital's safety after the media reported the possible SARS case. Hospital staff assured callers the patient was isolated and precautions were being taken to prevent transmission to staff or other patients, he said.

    "We take care of people all the time, on a regular basis that we take the same precautions with," Touchton said, "and we treat the patients for their needs but also protect other people in the process."

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