Suspected SARS case reported in Anchorage

Posted: Monday, May 19, 2003

ANCHORAGE (AP) A man who showed symptoms that might be SARS is being kept in isolation in an Anchorage hospital, according to health officials.

The patient, who hasn't been identified, arrived about 10:45 a.m. Friday as part of the four-person crew on a cargo flight from Shanghai, according to Dr. Thomas Hennessy of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Whether he has SARS or not isn't clear, but officials were taking all the precautions.

''The World Health Organization would not count this person as a case of SARS because his chest X-ray was negative,'' Hennessy said Sunday.

The man stayed in an Anchorage hotel, but had limited contact with other people in the city, health officials said. About 2 a.m. Sunday, he began having symptoms that included a fever and cough. He didn't have any contact with others after showing the symptoms, they said.

Early Sunday morning, he called emergency workers and described his symptoms. An Anchorage Fire Department ambulance responded with workers in full gear to prevent disease transmission. That gear includes a gown, gloves, glasses and a filtered breathing mask, according to Soren Threadgill, an assistant fire chief.

Both the ambulance and the room where he had been staying were disinfected using protocols set by the CDC, Threadgill said.

The patient was immediately placed in a special isolation room at Providence Alaska Medical Center, said Jewel Jones, the city's director of health and human services, and did not pose a threat to other patients.

He was listed in fair condition Sunday.

Indeed, said city medical officer Dr. Bruce Chandler Sunday, ''this person is not really sick at the moment.''

And, Chandler said, he likely wasn't infectious on Saturday, when he did have contact with others. Health officials say transmission of SARS takes direct contact with an infected person or being in the same room with them, and it's only transmitted when people show symptoms.

Asked how many people were potentially exposed, Chandler said, ''in my mind it's zero. He wasn't sick when he met with other crew members (Saturday). He was sick overnight.''

After that, anyone who's been in contact with him is following strict anti-inflection protocols, the officials said.

Authorities wouldn't provide much in the way of detail about the patient, other than saying he was an adult male who lives in China. They also didn't identify where he had stayed. They did say he was being very cooperative.

The rest of the cargo flight crew and others who came in contact with the patient are being monitored, according to Hennessy of the CDC, and instructed to seek immediate medical attention if any symptoms develop.

CDC workers meet the two passenger flights a week that come from Asia and distribute information about SARS, Hennessy said, but it's Customs agents who take care of that duty for cargo flights, which arrive at all hours of the day and night.

Anchorage is a hub for Asian air cargo flights, and about 500 cargo planes from more than 50 airlines arrive from foreign countries every week.

Early last month, the state had another alert for a possible SARS infection. That also involved a member of a flight crew that had arrived from Asia, in that case Hong Kong. Lab tests later showed that patient did not have SARS.

Worldwide, the pneumonia-like illness has killed at least 634 people and infected more than 7,850. But aggressive isolation measures have been successful in limiting its spread in Toronto and some other cities where the disease appeared to have a substantial foothold.

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