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Health Officials concern over new strain of pneumonia

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Contact: John Emmanuel

Thursday, March 20, 2003 - Health Officials on the island say they are on high alert following an advisory issued by the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), asking the countries of the Americas to be on guard in light of the emergence of cases of an unusual form of pneumonia, caused by a yet-unidentified virus or bacteria resistant to existing drugs.

Reports of over 150 cases of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), an atypical pneumonia of unknown origin, have been received by the World Health Organization (WHO) since February 26, 2003. Nine of the cases, in nine countries, have been fatal. . Six probable cases have been reported in Canada, all members of a family that had travelled to Hong Kong in February.

PAHO's Deputy Director Dr. David Bennett, said the Organization has asked its member countries in the Americas, to be on the lookout for any cases of this rare pneumonia. The disease is spread from person to person through close contact. There is no evidence to date that the disease spreads though casual contact. To date, almost all reported cases have occurred in health workers involved in the direct care of reported cases or in close contacts, such as family members.

The World Health Organization (WHO) is coordinating the international investigation of the outbreak and working closely with health authorities in the affected countries to provide epidemiological, clinical and logistical support as required. The mode of transmission and the causative agent have yet to be determined.

Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Mc Donald Chase, said an alert on the situation has also been received from the regional health body the Caribbean Epidemiology Centre (CAREC).

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