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CDC: U.S. 'not out of the woods yet' on SARS

Agency urges continued caution against disease

Dr. Julie Gerberding:
Dr. Julie Gerberding: "We're not out of the woods yet."

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ATLANTA, Georgia (CNN) -- Despite the relatively low number of probable SARS cases in the United States -- 39, with no deaths attributed to the disease -- a top health official warned on Tuesday, "we're not out of the woods yet."

"We still have no capacity to predict where it's going," said Dr. Julie Gerberding, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (Search for SARS treatment)

"The last thing that we can do at this point is relax and say, 'Thank goodness we don't have very many probable cases in the United States, and therefore maybe we're not ever going to have any subsequent spread,'' she said. "This is exactly the time we need to continue to do what we've been doing."

The CDC, in addition to investigating the origin and spread of severe acute respiratory syndrome, has issued a series of alerts for travelers to and from countries where the disease continues to spread, and for people such as health care workers who might come in contact with infected people.

The CDC issued such an alert Tuesday for travel to Canada, where 14 deaths have been attributed to the disease, saying travelers should avoid health care settings and other places where people with SARS might be. (Full story)

The disease has prompted a health care emergency in Canada, where more than half of the 139 probable SARS cases involve health care workers.

At the Canadian government's request, CDC personnel headed to Toronto, Ontario, on Tuesday to advise in controlling the spread of SARS.

"We remain sobered by the ongoing transmission in Hong Kong, China and probably Singapore," Gerberding said. "We also see countries where there has been at least some successful containment, and it looks like progress is being made in a number of fronts in that regard." (China battles SARS)

She said Taiwan was one example of a country where the increase in probable cases appears to have tapered off. According to the World Health Organization, Taiwan counted no new SARS cases Tuesday, and its total of 29 cases and no deaths so far stands in stark contrast to WHO's numbers on China and Hong Kong.

China reported 42 new cases for a total of 2,001, the WHO said Tuesday, and the SARS death toll in that country stands at 92. Those numbers do not include Hong Kong, where 32 new cases bring its total to 1,434, with 99 deaths, the WHO said.

Authorities in Beijing announced Tuesday that elementary and secondary schools would close for two weeks, starting Thursday, in an effort to stem the epidemic.

Of the 39 probable cases in the United States as of Tuesday, 37 involve people who had traveled to countries where the infection has spread, Gerberding said. (Victim's story)

U.S. disease deaths
West Nile284(2002)
Pneumonia            63,548(2000)
Chicken pox48(1999)
Source: CDC

One of the remaining patients is a health care worker who was apparently exposed on the job, and the other is a relative of another SARS patient, she said.

Asked at the news conference whether the CDC was advising that groups such as sports teams not travel to Canada, Gerberding said, "[Sports teams] are not getting any different advice. There's no reason to think they would be at any different risk. There are no advisories against teams playing in Canada."

Gerberding said the SARS mortality rate worldwide stands at 5.9 percent of the probable cases counted. But she said that even if scientists are able to contain the spread of SARS, that death rate might increase as diagnostic techniques improve and cases that might not have been included earlier are counted in the SARS numbers.

"You may see the mortality rate go up -- but that's not necessarily because SARS per se is getting worse," Gerberding said.

-- CNN Beijing bureau chief Jaime FlorCruz contributed to this report.

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