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Californian Airport Briefly Quarantines Flight after Passengers Report SARS-like Symptoms - 2003-04-02

Health officials briefly quarantined an airliner at the San Jose, California, airport Tuesday after five people on board complained of symptoms similar to those of the deadly new illness arriving from Asia.

American Airlines flight 128 from Tokyo was held on the tarmac for nearly two hours after the five complained of symptoms similar to those of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). The illness has infected more than 1,700 people and killed more than 60, mostly in Hong Kong and other parts of Asia.

Dr. Karen Smith of the Santa Clara County Department of Public Health cleared two on board, whose symptoms were not consistent with the condition. Three others were taken to a local hospital for observation and chest x-rays.

The health official said other passengers were given a written alert and released. "And the alert essentially says that you may have been exposed to SARS," explained Dr. Smith. "You should monitor your health for the next seven to 10 days, and if you develop respiratory symptoms or fever, you should see your physician."

Doctor Sara Cody said SARS symptoms include a fever of more than 38 degrees Celsius, a cough, trouble breathing or shortness of breath and experienced by those who recently traveled to parts of Asia or came in close contact with people who have traveled there. "Anyone who has been in mainland China, which includes Guangdong province and Hong Kong," she said. "Anyone who has been in Hanoi, Vietnam, or Singapore."

The flu-like symptoms of SARS can quickly develop into a severe form of pneumonia. The disease is fatal in three to five percent of patients.

Santa Clara County health workers say federal officials need to develop guidelines to ensure that every flight from Asia with a coughing passenger does not undergo quarantine at the airport.

Seven suspected SARS cases have been identified in Santa Clara County and another seven in Los Angeles. No one has died of the condition in the United States.