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Authorities on alert over mystery virus

Some 83 suspected cases of the virus have been reported in Hong Kong Keystone

Swiss health authorities have announced precautionary measures to prevent the spread of a mystery virus that is sweeping through Asia.

This content was published on March 17, 2003 - 15:38

Passengers at Swiss airports are being offered the option of emergency medical check-ups, following fears that the virus had spread to Switzerland.

The Federal Office for Health said two suspected cases in Geneva were unrelated to the atypical pneumonia which has killed nine people in Canada and Asia.

However, officials in canton Fribourg said on Tuesday that a family of four had been treated for symptoms of the illness and had been put in quarantine at home.

The World Health Organization (WHO), which has issued a global health warning, said it had received reports of more that 150 suspected cases of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). Its cause has not yet been determined.

Suspected cases have been reported in Canada, China, Hong Kong, Indonesia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

"This syndrome is now a worldwide health threat," said Gro Harlem Brundtland, the director general for the WHO. "The world needs to work together to find its cause, cure the sick and stop its spread."

Airport check-ups

In Switzerland, the Federal Office for Public Health on Sunday set up facilities at Swiss airports to offer passengers returning from Asia the possibility of emergency medical check-ups.

Jean-Louis Zuercher, spokesman for the Office, said the Swiss authorities are encouraging people to take suspected symptoms of the virus seriously.

"The important message for us is that we'd like people coming back from South East Asia who have respiratory problems or a fever to go to a physician to see if they have the illness," Zuercher told swissinfo.

But the Office also said it did not see the need to check all passengers on board flights returning from the region. "It's not yet clear how this virus is being transmitted," said spokesman Hans Matter.

"Anyone on board a flight which carried a passenger diagnosed with the virus would be informed," he added.

Over the weekend, a Singapore doctor who treated some of the first pneumonia patients was taken off a plane in Frankfurt, Germany, after he fell ill. Authorities in Frankfurt said his condition had deteriorated.

Hotline

The Office has also set up a hotline to deal with inquiries regarding the virus and to provide information for people travelling to Asia.

It says travellers who have just returned from the region should consult a doctor immediately if they are suffering from fever, respiratory problems and aching muscles.

However, health officials said there was no cause for alarm.

swissinfo with agencies

Key facts

Nine people have died from the virus, an atypical pneumonia whose cause is not yet known.
At least 150 suspected cases of virus have been reported in Asia and Canada.

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