Local News

Orange County SARS Patient Out Of Isolation

Posted June 16, 2003

— The Orange County man diagnosed with severe acute respiratory syndrome is free to move around as he pleases.

According to a state health official, the first person in the state confirmed with the respiratory virus is no longer in isolation at home. Isolation can end 10 days after the last symptom disappeared.

Two co-workers of the man at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill came down with pneumonia. One of them died Friday, but preliminary tests for SARS were negative. Additional tests for the second worker ruled out SARS.

The man with SARS contracted the flu-like illness after encountering an infected person during a visit to a Toronto rehabilitation center.

Workers at UNC have had the option to visit a makeshift health clinic in a parking lot if concerned about their health. More than 200 employees work in the building where the SARS patient worked.

Nearly all of the health-care workers who came in contact with the patient and two of his family members also are now out of isolation.

A co-worker of the SARS patient died Friday of heart failure and pneumonia, state health officials said.

A second pneumonia patient was ruled out as a SARS patient Friday night, state health officials said. He was being monitored at home after being treated at Duke University Medical Center.

Laboratory tests performed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention "have eliminated SARS as the cause of illness for this man," said state Health Director Leah Devlin.

The SARS patient and the man who died, neither of whom has been identified, had overlapping work hours May 21-23 in the Giles F. Horney Building, which houses facilities services offices off the university's main campus.

"The disease investigation so far has not shown close personal contact between the two people," said Carol Schriber of the Orange County Health Department.

The SARS patient showed no symptoms at the time, and Devlin said there are no reported cases anywhere in the world in which a co-worker outside a medical setting passed the disease to a colleague.

The man who died had suffered a chronic cough for weeks and his condition suddenly deteriorated Monday,

The News & Observer

reported Friday. State epidemiologist Dr. Jeffrey Engel would only say Friday that they were still investigating the background of his condition.

State health officials received "very preliminary" test results Friday morning from the CDC. The tests showed both men negative for SARS; the same kind of test, involving swabs from the nose or the back of the throat, confirmed the diagnosis of SARS in the first man.

"Right now we're calling it definitely heading down the right track," Engel said. "But you cannot rule out a case of SARS until several days after the initial onset of illness."

Engel said the most conclusive test can only be done 21 to 28 days after onset of symptoms.

The university offered health screenings to 500 employees who worked in the building or for the energy services department, as well as their immediate family members. Of those examined, none showed symptoms related to SARS.

The SARS patient will undergo a more formal medical clearance with the school's infectious disease consultants before returning to work, said Dr. Brian Goldstein, chief of staff of UNC Hospitals.

Test results from the CDC confirmed the Orange County man's diagnosis Monday, making him the eighth confirmed case of SARS in the United States. He apparently contracted SARS after encountering an infected person during a visit to a Toronto geriatric rehabilitation center.

None of his family has shown any symptoms.

State health officials quarantined 12 people at an Orange County doctor's office, three from a UNC-CH hospital and two family members of the SARS patient. The quarantine was to end Saturday.

Also, nine members of the staff at Duke University Medical Center and two at Western Wake Medical Center were being monitored for symptoms. Four health care workers at Western Wake were on furlough because they had close exposure to the man who died, though they did not show any symptoms of SARS.

Citizens with SARS concerns may call the

health department

at

245-2400

and ask to speak to a communicable disease nurse. The NC CARE LINE at

(800) 662-7030

is also available to take SARS-related calls.

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