State asks doctors to stay
alert for new lung disease

So far, Hawaii reports no cases of
the deadly pneumonia-like illness

By Rosemarie Bernardo

State health officials have alerted thousands of health care providers to be on the lookout for patients suffering from a mysterious disease that has killed nine people in Asia and Canada.

There have been no reports in Hawaii of the disease called severe acute respiratory syndrome, said Dr. Paul Effler, chief of the state Communicable Disease Division.

The advisory was e-mailed to health care providers yesterday afternoon, Effler said. Health officials will also contact local hospitals daily to find out whether anyone who is suffering from the symptoms of the disease has been admitted.

"We need to be vigilant," Effler said, "yet you don't want that prudent concern to promote panic when there is no need for it."

The severe acute respiratory syndrome is described as "an infectious disease of an unknown etiology characterized by atypical pneumonia," according to the World Health Organization. The disease is spread between people who are in close contact with each other.

The disease acts like flu -- causing fever, achy muscles and pneumonia in severe cases, but tests have failed to show it is flu, said Dr. Anthony Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. No one knows what is causing this disease, he said.

Patients suffer the following symptoms: a temperature of 100.4 degrees or higher, cough, shortness of breath, hypoxia and difficulty breathing. The advisory also asked doctors to determine whether a patient was in close contact with someone who was diagnosed with the illness or may have recently traveled to Hong Kong; China's Guangdong province; Hanoi, Vietnam; the Philippines; or Thailand, where cases have been reported.

More than 150 suspected cases of severe acute respiratory syndrome have been reported over the past week in Southeast Asia and Canada, according to the WHO. Officials say mostly all of the reported cases are either family members or health workers who were in close proximity to the affected patient.

Respiratory illnesses in Hawaii are common and easily treatable, Effler said.

However, a person should seek medical attention if the illness is severe, Effler said.

According to the WHO, Chinese authorities have issued a report on an outbreak of what may be the same or a related disease that began in Guangdong province and peaked in mid-February.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advised people to postpone their travels to places where they have reported such cases until further notice.

For more information, call the CDC hot line at 888-246-2675.

Reuters contributed to this report.

Hawaii Department of Health

E-mail to City Desk


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