Mystery Illness Beginning to Appear in California

AP Wire Service

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) – At least nine San Francisco Bay area people are now suspected of contracting the flu-like mystery illness that has killed 60 people outside of the United States.

And San Francisco, a city teeming with world travelers and tourists, has reported its first suspected case of the respiratory infection known as severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has distributed a list of 140 Americans who stayed at Hong Kong’s Metropole Hotel on Feb. 21 and 22, the same time a doctor from China was dying of the disease was staying there.

Most of the Americans on the list are from California.

“California leads the nation in the number of guests who have been to the hotel,” said Dr. Laurene Mascola, chief of the acute communicable disease unit of the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services.

Four people from Santa Clara County are suspected of falling ill and Los Angeles County said Monday it is investigating two more new suspicious cases in addition to the five previously reported.

The quick spread of the illness has prompted some Californians to cancel vacation and business trips to Asia.

At 5 Oceans Tours in Westminster, some customers have canceled flights to Asia scheduled for May and June and weekly bookings for trips there have dropped from 100 to five, according to manager Cam Tsai.

“It’s kind of serious when people in Hong Kong are wearing masks,” Tsai said. “I wouldn’t go, either.”

It’s more of the same in San Francisco, where Kevin Goo, a travel agent for China Travel Service USA Inc., said about 20 percent of the firm’s clients have canceled tours in China.

San Francisco health officials said the person who fell ill in the city Saturday, an adult male, remained hospitalized Monday in good condition and was expected to recover.

Dr. Susan Fernyak, director of the city’s department of communicable disease prevention, said she was surprised that only one suspected case has been uncovered in San Francisco, which has a large Asian population that travels frequently to China and Hong Kong, where most of the SARS cases have been reported.

“There is no reason for heightened anxiety,” added Dr. Jonathan Fielding, Los Angeles County director of public health.

But as of Friday, the California Department of Health Services said the state has had 16 of the country’s 69 suspected cases. None of the state’s suspected cases appear to be life-threatening and no one in the United States has died of the illness, health officials said.