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Killer Respiratory Virus Spreads to Europe - 2003-03-25

International Health officials are still not sure what is causing that pneumonia-like illness that has caused 17 deaths and infected hundreds of others. Most of those who have contracted the disease are in Asia, but France has now reported its first case.

As Carol Pearson reports, the disease has both health and economic implications.

The killer respiratory virus that has taken lives and infected close to 500 people in 14 countries, is sowing a climate of fear in Hong Kong, Singapore and other places in Asia where the disease, called Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, or SARS, first appeared. Hong Kong is now the epicenter of the disease and is reportedly seeing a drop of 80 percent of the tourist bookings from overseas.

Fear of getting SARS is emptying restaurants and movie theaters as well and many people have taken to wearing surgical masks in public.

No one yet knows what causes the virus. American scientists say it may be linked to the coronavirus which can cause colds.

Canadian health officials say they have detected another virus in patients carrying the illness while the World Health Organization says a family of microbes may be behind the disease.

There are fears that the virus could be spreading faster than presumed.

“The unusual thing about this particular germ, we still don’t know what it is, is that it seems to have a predilection for health care workers and those in close contact with the patients.”

In Hong Kong some schools have closed others are being wiped down with disinfectants daily.

In Singapore, the health ministry has quarantined nearly 800 people as SARS continues to spread.

The first case in France involved a medical worker from a hospital in Vietnam.