Local News

N.C. Health Officials On Lookout For Mysterious SARS Illness

Posted April 1, 2003 10:46 a.m. EST

— North Carolina health officials are on the lookout for a volatile virus. There is now a second suspected case of

Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome

, or SARS, in Wake County.

SARS has already killed dozens worldwide. There is no cure.

The last time health officials experienced a similar outbreak was the swine flu scare in the 1970s. SARS is a new strain of virus, one experts are constantly learning something new about.

SARS has reached epidemic proportions in some Asian countries. In Hong Kong, doctors quarantined 241 residents of an apartment complex after finding 92 new cases. It is not considered an epidemic in the United States, but new cases are popping up.

North Carolina health officials

suspect two more people have come down with SARS, bringing the total to four; two in Wake County, one in Orange and one in Mecklenberg County. All four patients got the virus while visiting an Asian country. None of those people are hospitalized.

State Epidemiologist Dr. Jeffrey Engel said we should still be worried.

"Anytime you have an infectious agent that is transmitted by aerosol, like this virus appears to be -- if indeed it is a virus -- it can spread very rapidly in a population," he said.

The SARS virus spreads much like the common cold, through sneezing or coughing. Symptoms include fever of more than 100 degrees Fahrenheit, cough, shortness of breath, travel to a country know to have SARS or contact with a person who traveled to a SARS country.

The virus can be deadly, but health officials do not know why it kills some people and not others. Right now, there is no treatment.

"The people that get severe illness, which is usually pneumonia and respiratory failure, have to be supported. If they get very seriously ill, they may even be put on life support, ventilators things like that," Engel said.

To help protect yourself from SARS, the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention recommends

avoiding travel

to to several Asian countries, including Hong Kong, China, Singapore and Vietnam.

At Raleigh-Durham International Airport, travelers from this countries are being given a card explaining the symptoms.

The mysterious pneumonia virus has infected almost 1,700 people worldwide. At least 129 of those cases are in Canada, one of the largest numbers outside Asia. Sixty-one people have died.