The United States has identified 11 cases of the new mystery disease among Americans who traveled to Asia. The disease has stricken hundreds of people worldwide. Dr. Julie Gerberding, of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says, “The 11 people that we are talking about today have a travel history, fever and respiratory symptoms that make them fall into a case definition for a suspect case.” The disease has been traced to a Chinese doctor who stayed on the 9th floor of the Metropole Hotel in Hong Kong. Health Minister Yeoh Eng-kiong says, “Eighty percent of the infections in Hong Kong can be traced to that one person.”

Hong Kong’s Department of Health has asked the hotel to seal off its ninth floor. “Today we will clean and disinfect that floor. We will also disinfect the (elevators),” says hotel manager Kaivan Ng. However, at least 20 cases apparently have no connection with the doctor who stayed there.

“The victims do not know each other,” says Hong Kong director of health Margaret Chan. “Based on our investigations so far, the only area where they could have come into contact with each other is the (elevator) lobby on that floor. Perhaps they all stood outside the elevator at the same time and someone sneezed or coughed.” The doctor’s wife is recovering, but the infection killed a 78-year-old Toronto woman who was staying on the 9th floor. Three tourists from Singapore have recovered, but 2 infected Canadians died.

“It would suggest that it spread through the air-conditioning system, but you can’t rule out person-to-person contact, since you don’t know if they were even in the same room together,” says Ronald Atlas of the American Society of Microbiology. “Everything suggests that it is airborne.”

The doctor carried the disease from China’s southern Guangdong province, where it infected more than 300 people and killed five. Most of those infected have been medical staff at the hospitals where he was treated or relatives of victims. The virus is from the paramyxoviridae family, which causes mumps and measles.

Nipah virus, which killed 105 people in Singapore and Malaysia in 1998 and 1999, is a paramyxovirus that is believed to have passed between pigs, people and fruit bats. Hendra virus, which came from horses, killed two people in Australia in 1994 and 1995. Paramyxoviruses cause of what health experts call emerging infections?diseases that have not been seen before.

How dangerous is travel to Asia, where most retroviruses originate? This is something doctors don’t tell you.

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