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Some 39 health care workers who came in contact with a man who died of pneumonia and heart failure last week remain quarantined in North Carolina while the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention determines whether he may have been infected with SARS.
James D. Reed, 45, who died Friday, worked in the same building at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill as the state's only confirmed SARS case. The two were never in direct contact, according to state health officials, but their work schedules overlapped for a three-day period.
"The preponderance of evidence suggests that he did not die of SARS. However we cannot absolutely say that until the results of the autopsy are complete," said Dr. Jeffrey Engel, North Carolina's state epidemiologist.
The CDC will analyze tissue samples this week from an autopsy performed Saturday.
"We're certainly trying to rule out SARS, but we're also going to look for other viral and bacterial agents," said David Daigle, a spokesman for the CDC.
Preliminary tests by the CDC and North Carolina last week ruled out SARS. And when Reed was last in the building on June 6, Engel said, he did not display any SARS-related symptoms, including fever, cough, headache and shortness of breath. Though he did not meet the CDC's case definition of a probable SARS case, North Carolina health officials are handling this "special interest case" cautiously.
"We think it's coincidental," said Carol Schriber, a spokeswoman for the state's Department of Health and Human Services. "But because it is a new disease and because not everything is known, they felt that they'd better err on the side of caution, and [handle it] as if he was a probable SARS case."
The confirmed SARS case, who is unidentified, was released from isolation over the weekend. All health care workers and family members exposed to the confirmed case also were removed from quarantine this weekend.
Copyright 2003 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution