Md. officials rule out two SARS cases

False alarms from city

Arundel family isolated after symptoms develop

April 25, 2003|By Erika Niedowski | Erika Niedowski,SUN STAFF

Health authorities ruled out two potential SARS cases in Maryland yesterday, but three members of a Millersville family who traveled recently to China were in isolation at home after one developed symptoms of the deadly respiratory ailment.

Anne Arundel County health officials said a 45-year-old woman who came down with a cough, shortness of breath and a fever higher than 101 degrees will remain isolated at her home until at least next week - 10 days after she is symptom-free.

The woman's husband and 1-year-old daughter have been asked to stay home as well, county officials said, though they are not considered suspect cases and may be allowed to resume normal activities today.

Health authorities said they were encouraged to report that two possible cases of severe acute respiratory syndrome have proved to be false alarms. A man from Canada who had checked in to Upper Chesapeake Medical Center in Bel Air on Wednesday with SARS-like symptoms tested positive for strep throat, said Maryland Health Secretary Nelson J. Sabatini.

And doctors determined that a 26-year-old Hong Kong woman who has been hospitalized at Maryland General since Monday had some other respiratory illness, according to hospital spokesman Lee Kennedy.

The woman, who was released last night, never showed all the classic signs of SARS and had been classified only as a "special interest" case.

Nine family members who had been isolated at a Bolton Hill apartment building have not become sick. Those visiting Baltimore, including the woman, were planning to leave town last night, said Dr. Peter L. Beilenson, the city health commissioner.

Meanwhile, a 40-year-old medical resident at Sinai Hospital who became ill during a trip to Toronto - a SARS hot spot - was released from Johns Hopkins Hospital last night to an undisclosed location where he will be kept isolated for the next eight days, city health officials said.

Beilenson said the man no longer has a fever or cough. Treatment guidelines call for suspect cases to remain secluded until 10 days after their symptoms have cleared up.

"We feel comfortable discharging him now because he's asymptomatic," Beilenson said.

Beilenson said X-rays showed no signs of pneumonia, which is common in the most serious SARS cases, but added that doctors could find no other cause for his illness.

Health officials are not aware of any of the man's "contacts" becoming ill. The doctor took at least two airplane flights after he fell ill and even showed up for work Monday at the Kennedy Krieger Institute, where he is doing a rotation.

The Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reported 247 possible cases of SARS in the United States, none of them fatal. The outbreak, which apparently began in China's Guangdong province in November, has sickened 4,402 people and killed at least 263 worldwide.

In the Anne Arundel case, the woman called her physician Tuesday to describe her symptoms and was told to go to the emergency department at North Arundel Hospital in Glen Burnie, according to Dr. Sohail Qarni, medical consultant for the county health department.

She was immediately isolated in a room with negative air pressure, which keeps contaminated particles from circulating throughout the hospital.

Health care workers shipped blood, stool and respiratory samples to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta for analysis. Qarni said a chest X-ray showed no signs of pneumonia.

The woman's husband and child, who traveled with her to Guangdong province, had some "mild illness," Qarni said, but their symptoms weren't consistent with the disease.

County Health Officer Frances B. Phillips said yesterday that she decided not to alert the public about the Millersville woman immediately because of the woman's status as a "suspected" SARS case, and because the family cooperated by staying in seclusion and sharing information about their contacts.

Phillips, whose department has screened and cleared 11 residents for the virus, said it could be misleading to release such information early because the woman's health status could have easily changed.

Sabatini, the state health secretary, said that local officials have been taking an aggressive approach in dealing with anyone who might have the illness.

"I think that the citizens of this state can take some comfort in the fact that the appropriate agencies are really working together to do everything possible to protect [their] safety and health," he said.

Sun staff writers Lynn Anderson and Ryan Davis contributed to this article.

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