Signs of SARS Could Lead to Forced Hospitalization, Isolation, Gov't Warns

By Patrick Goodenough | July 7, 2008 | 8:13 PM EDT

Pacific Rim Bureau ( - With Hong Kong and mainland China taking ever-more stringent precautions in the fight against the deadly new pneumonia-like outbreak, the State Department has again urged Americans to stay away from those areas.

The new advisory notes that anyone in Hong Kong - resident or foreign visitor - displaying symptoms of "severe acute respiratory syndrome" (SARS) will find himself admitted to a designated hospital, where traditional visiting rights will be denied.

"As long as the patient is deemed contagious, he/she will not be able to receive visitors, including personal physicians and family members," it said.

The advisory warned of a similar situation on the mainland, adding that evacuation of SARS patients from China had also become a problem.

There were difficulties in getting hold of transport, and in finding a destination willing to accept patients arriving from China, it said.

"Many countries in the region have indicated they will not admit SARS patients for treatment."

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 160 people have died from SARS and almost 3,300 have been infected by the virus, which emerged in southern China last November and has since been reported in more than 20 countries, its spread facilitated by air travel.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta has reported 199 suspected cases, but no deaths, in the United States.

After weeks of collaborative research by scientists in 10 countries in Asia, North America and Europe, the WHO Wednesday officially confirmed that the virus was from the same group that causes the common cold, although never seen before in humans.

No vaccine is available or cure known for SARS, whose symptoms include coughing, difficulty breathing and high fever. But the WHO says that about half of those recorded as having been infected around the world have since recovered.

After mainland China, Hong Kong has been the worst-hit area, with more than 1,200 infections and 61 deaths.

The territory has already tried a range of measures to curb the spread, including mass quarantines. Airline passengers leaving Hong Kong are now having their temperature checked at the airport, while arriving passengers will soon also undergo health checks.

Early this month, the State Department authorized the departure of non-essential diplomatic staff and all family members at the embassy in Beijing and consulates in Hong Kong and three other cities.

The U.S. Pacific Command has announced a temporary moratorium on any calls by U.S. Navy vessels to Hong Kong or other southern Chinese ports.

The Chinese government has been widely criticized for secrecy and under-reporting of the outbreak there, and the WHO said Wednesday the problem in Beijing was much worse than authorities there had admitted previously.

With mass cancellations and services slashed, Asian airlines have called the outbreak the most serious crisis they have ever faced.

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Patrick Goodenough
Patrick Goodenough
Spencer Journalism Fellow