A Chinese woman and her husband living in Hong Kong went
to visit to her family in the Guangdong Province, China. They
stayed at a hotel for one night, then returned to Hong Kong where they
live with their two sons, daughter-in-law, and 5-month-old grandson.
The woman soon came down with flu-like symptoms including sore throat,
cough, and swollen glands. Her family physician diagnosed her as having
pneumonia, put her on antibiotics and sent her home. Three days later,
her symptoms worsened and she died.
The woman's son came down with fever two days later. He
developed a cough, chest pains and indigestion. He was diagnosed with
community-acquired pneumonia and admitted into the hospital, where he
was given intravenous, broad-spectrum antibiotics. Six days later, he
died of multiple organ dysfunction.
Within days, all adult members of their household, as
well as immediate family members not in the household, came down with
flu-like symptoms. In addition, the 37-year-old physician who had
treated the son developed a fever, cough, and severe headache. Another
patient, who had been in the waiting room with the woman and her
husband, came down with a fever and malaise. The list goes on.
What started as a local outbreak of pneumonia quickly spread throughout
Southeast Asia. First, the Chinese Ministry of Health reported 305
cases of acute respiratory syndrome. Then a traveler to Hanoi spread
the disease to health care workers in Vietnam. A month later, the
disease appeared in Hong Kong, where hundreds became sick. This disease
seems to spread casually through hotel lobbies, airplanes and hospital
waiting rooms. Of those infected, about 10% die, especially the
elderly. There seems to be no end in site to the spread of this
unidentified, fatal pathogen.
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