Airport monitored for signs of mystery illness

Posted: Thursday, March 20, 2003

ANCHORAGE - The Anchorage office of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is on the lookout for a dangerous new strain of pneumonia.

Medical staffers have begun meeting flights at the Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport from Asian cities with possible links to the mystery illness.

No passengers arriving on a flight from Hong Kong and one from Seoul on Wednesday reported symptoms, according to Dr. Tom Hennessy, chief epidemiologist with the CDC's arctic investigations unit. Passengers were given details about the condition and urged to contact doctors if they become ill.

Hennessy said office staff will continue to meet about 10 flights from the region each week.

"The goal is just to be proactive and to provide information to passengers coming from Asia," he told the Anchorage Daily News.

CDC officials have been conducting a similar program at other U.S. airports.

The illness, called severe acute respiratory syndrome or SARS, originated in Southeast Asia but apparently has spread to North America and Europe through infected travelers. At least 264 cases have been reported in 12 countries, including 11 suspected cases in the United States, according to the World Health Organization. Nine people have died.

On Monday, the Alaska Division of Public Health announced it was distributing information about SARS to health-care workers across the state.

"Alaska is a busy crossroads for people and cargo traveling from many of these countries to other parts of the world," said acting director Deb Erickson.

Symptoms include a fever higher than 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit and respiratory problems. Other factors are a history of travel within the previous week to Hong Kong, Hanoi or the Guangdong Province in China or close contact with someone already suffering from SARS.

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