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SARS-Related Virus Breaks Out in Canada - 2003-08-15

Canadian health officials have isolated an elderly care facility in British Columbia where a virus related to SARS has broken out. But the officials say the disease is not SARS and the symptoms are much milder.

British Columbia officials say a respiratory ailment has infected nearly 150 elderly residents and health care workers in the nursing home in a Vancouver suburb. Laboratory tests reveal that the virus is similar to the one that causes SARS.

Three of the elderly residents have died of respiratory problems since the outbreak occurred July 1. But health authorities say the deaths are not necessarily linked to the outbreak because some of the victims had previous lung conditions.

The symptoms, including cough, low fever, and runny nose, are mild like a cold. Nevertheless, Canadian national public health official Paul Gully says the nursing home has been quarantined while investigation into the virus continues.

"This illness is not the same as SARS," he said. "We are working to regard this as a respiratory disease outbreak, which will then be controlled by respiratory isolation."

The Canadian doctors say the virus outbreak peaked at the end of July with the last few cases appearing just three days ago. Dr. David Patrick of the British Columbia Center for Disease Control says none of the patients has been hospitalized and only three have experienced fever.

"The outbreak so far hasn't behaved like SARS as it manifested in Hong Kong, Toronto, Singapore, Vancouver, et cetera in the past," said Mr. Patrick. "So what are the possibilities? Well, this could be the SARS virus behaving less aggressively. Or it could be a closely related virus previously unknown, for example, which is less virulent than the SARS virus.

Virus samples have been sent for examination to the World Health Organization in Geneva and U.S. government laboratories. Dr. Gully says the WHO has agreed not to treat this outbreak as SARS.