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Health Officials Concerned Over New SARS Cluster, Exported Case to U.S.

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TORONTO, June 10 (AFP) - Health officials were grappling Tuesday with a possible new cluster of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome as well as a confirmed case of probable SARS exported to the United States.

Canada is the only country outside Asia to report any SARS-related deaths. All 33 SARS-linked deaths since March have been centered around the Toronto area, which witnessed a second SARS outbreak on May 22.

Now, it appears there may be a third cluster of SARS patients in a non-hospital setting in Whitby, Ontario, some 50 kilometers (30 miles) east of here.

Officials said Monday they were investigating 15 people who were at the dialysis unit of Lakeridge Health Corporation who have started to exhibit respiratory problems and had fevers. They were being treated as SARS patients.

"It's not good news. When you see a cluster of cases of pneumonia in view of what has gone through in the last few weeks, and you have to assume it's SARS," Donald Low, a microbiologist and a leading member of Ontario province's SARS team, told CBC Newsworld early Tuesday.

Added to this bad news, Low said, was the confirmation by North Carolina health officials of a probable SARS case in a man who had visited a Toronto-area hospital in mid-May.

It appears to be the first exported case of SARS from Toronto's second outbreak.

While Toronto's first outbreak in March landed the city on a World Health Organization travel advisory for one week in April, the second cluster so far had not warranted such a move, WHO officials said recently.

With these latest developments, officials are concerned they may now meet the WHO's travel advisory criteria of SARS spread, new cases each day and the exportation of the flu-like illness.

"The WHO again is not going to be happy with this. The next few days are going to be critical for us as (to) whether or not the WHO slaps another travel advisory on us," Low told CBC.

Officials on Monday said they have 75 active SARS cases, including 66 probable and nine suspect cases. Another 260 people were under investigation as possible SARS cases.



COPYRIGHT 2003 Agence France-Presse. All rights reserved.

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