Suspected SARS case

A 23-year-old South African flight attendant who arrived here from Hong Kong on Saturday is being treated in the Sismanogleio hospital, suspected of suffering from Greece’s first case of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS). «The case meets all the criteria for a suspected case of SARS and will be reported as such to the Word Health Organization,» Health Minister Costas Stefanis said yesterday. The woman, however, was improving, was without fever and initial tests were «within normal limits,» the Health Ministry said later. A chest X-ray also was normal. Final test results are expected today. Dr Eleni Giamarellou, a professor of infectious diseases, said that even if the results were negative this could still be a case of SARS and tests should be repeated in two to three weeks. This first suspected case of the deadly virus prompted a medical mobilization, influenced both by Greece’s dependence on tourism and the Athens 2004 Olympics. Officials sought to emphasize that Greece was taking all possible measures to prevent any outbreak of the disease here but also noted that the Games were a long way off. «How can we connect this international problem with the Athens Olympics, which are still 15 months away?» government spokesman Christos Protopappas asked. Olympics organizers said that visits to and from suspect areas had been suspended. The SARS virus has killed about 560 people around the world and infected more than 7,400. The woman, who works for Dubai’s Emirates Airline, arrived in Athens from Hong Kong on Saturday. On Sunday, she began to run a high fever (over 38.5 degrees Celsius) and experience difficulty in breathing. A doctor examined her on Monday and sent her to the Erythros Stavros hospital. Because the institution has no special negative pressure room for treating SARS, she was taken to the Sismanogleio hospital early yesterday. The Health Ministry said the woman, who was not named, was being treated in a negative pressure room and was «in good condition.» The Center for Infectious Diseases (KEEL) said it had spoken to a wide range of people she had been in contact with. These included friends and colleagues, employees at the Ledra Mariott Hotel and guests on the same floor, employees at the restaurants she visited and the doctor who examined her. Her room was sealed and decontaminated.