An American Airlines flight from Tokyo was quarantined on the landing strip at San Jose’s airport after five people, including two crew members, complained of SARS-like symptoms. Ambulances lined up near the plane as the 125 passengers and 14 crew members waited on board after the nine-hour flight. Joy Alexiou, of the Santa Clara County Public Health Department, says of the people on board who reported to the crew during the flight that they “think they may have SARS, we’re pretty sure four of the five transferred from Hong Kong to Tokyo.” Three of the people were taken to the hospital, and the other two were released.

There’s evidence that SARS can be caught by passengers on airplanes. In Singapore’s airports, nurses examining arriving passengers say they found at least seven suspected cases of SARS in less than 24 hours. Several tourists on a China Air flight caught the disease after flying with another SARS-infected passenger. Singapore Airlines said an attendant got SARS after traveling on a flight that carried a SARS-infected doctor, and officials in Connecticut say a suspected case there involves a college student who went overseas on spring break.

Hong Kong has invoked a law that hasn’t been used since the days of British occupation to quarantine more than 240 SARS-infected people in camps in the countryside. Residents of Block E of the Amoy Gardens Apartment complex have been moved to the camps, which are usually used by vacationers, says Dr. Leung Pak-yin, Hong Kong deputy director of health. The apartment block has already been sealed off. Canada, where 6 people have died of SARS, has passed a resolution allowing for involuntary quarantine of infected people, although they haven’t used it yet.

Besides the quarantined apartment building, Hong Kong has shut down a hotel, and several schools and hospitals. Singapore shut down one of its largest colleges, Taiwan has banned boats from sailing from mainland China, and the World Economic Forum postponed a meeting that was to be held in Beijing.

Leung says an “environmental factor” in the sealed-off apartment building might be causing SARS to spread, but he did not elaborate. Some say a sewage leak might have spread the disease among residents of apartment units at one end of the 33-story building. However, this doesn’t explain the spread of SARS among guests at the upscale Metropole Hotel there. It’s more likely that SARS was spread through heating or air conditioning ducts, meaning it could rapidly spread through office buildings as well.

Dr. David Heymann, of the World Health Organization, says WHO will advise people not to travel to Hong Kong if they can’t figure out how the disease is spreading. To learn more,click here and here.

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