No answers yet on mystery pneumonia
ATLANTA, Georgia (CNN) -- A particularly virulent form of pneumonia had scientists and doctors scrambling Sunday for more information to share with a fearful public that already has been told to consider postponing visits to several locations where the disease has been reported.
Looking to stem any groundswell of panic, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Julie Gerberding noted that "a lot of illnesses" spread at this time of the year.
"We don't even know [if] it's a virus," she told CNN. "It is flu season. We may be confusing this particular illness with garden-variety flu in some cases."
"This particular illness" is the newly named Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, or SARS, an atypical pneumonia that was first recognized last November in China's Guangdong province.
An outbreak of the illness there killed five of the 350 people infected before ending in mid-February, World Health Organization spokesman Dick Thompson said.
Over the past week, more than 150 new or suspected cases of the pneumonia have been reported around the world, the WHO said. Nine of those people have died.
Other cases have been identified in Canada, Hong Kong, Indonesia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam -- including one case of a Singapore doctor who began exhibiting symptoms as he flew from a medical conference in New York back to his home in Singapore.
The doctor, who had recently treated two SARS patients in Singapore, and his two traveling companions were placed in medical isolation Saturday in Frankfurt, Germany.
The New York City Health Department said the doctor attended the conference for only "a few hours" and had "minimal contact with others" during his two days in the city.
The physician is in stable condition with a respiratory illness, the health department said.
Another person, who traveled from the state of Georgia to Canada, appears to have been stricken with the illness, Gerberding said.
Health authorities in New York and Georgia are attempting to trace the travelers' contacts while they were in the United States, she said.
WHO said the outbreak of the disease constituted "a worldwide threat," but did not recommend travel restrictions.
The CDC, however, urged people to consider alternate to any plans to travel to the affected areas.
Asked whether the outbreak could have been caused by terrorism, Gerberding said, "We have to keep an open mind."
A spokesman for the Transportation Security Administration, which oversees security on airlines, said, "All information at present indicates this is a public health issue unrelated to any act of terrorism."
Gerberding said the CDC was taking no risks with the disease, handing out cards explaining the symptoms and what to do to people returning from cruises or trips to the areas where the disease has been identified.