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Officials Eye Suspicious Group with Fevers as SARS Death Toll Holds at 33

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TORONTO, June 9 (AFP) - Health officials here said Monday they were investigating a possible third cluster of people with severe acute respiratory syndrome, but reported no new SARS-linked deaths.

Canada is the only country outside Asia to report any SARS-related deaths. All 33 deaths have occurred in the Toronto area, the epicenter of the SARS outbreaks in Canada. The latest outbreak occurred on May 22.

Officials said Monday they have 75 active SARS cases, including 66 probable and nine suspect. The probable SARS caseload fell by three overnight.

Twenty-one of the 65 people who were being treated in hospital for SARS were in critical condition.

Another 260 people were under investigation as possible SARS cases as a precautionary measure.

Not included in this last category are 15 people who were at the dialysis unit of Lakeridge Health Corporation in Whitby, Ontario -- some 50 kilometers (30 miles) east of here -- who have started to exhibit respiratory problems.

"We have to treat it as though it is (a third cluster) but we don't know if it is," said James Young, Ontario's commissioner for public security.

Donald Low, chief microbiologist of Mount Sinai Hospital, said of the people under investigation: "Anytime you see a cluster of pneumonia, you're concerned about a transmissible cause.

"To see this occurring in a closed unit, especially a dialysis unit, has to be of grave concern that we're witnessing another cluster of SARS, so that would be my working assumption," he said.

Meanwhile, Low said a group of mothers and babies were doing fine after being put in 10-day quarantine last week as a precaution after a health care trainee in the obstetrics ward came down with SARS two days after the completion of his own 10-day quarantine.

"Nobody has any signs or symptoms," he said of the mothers and babies, adding that they were only in day five, so it was a bit premature to say whether or not they may come down with SARS.

Ontario health officials issued a directive to hospitals over the weekend to be vigilant about adhering to precautionary measures of gowns, gloves, masks and or googles in all patient areas.



COPYRIGHT 2003 Agence France-Presse. All rights reserved.

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