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Bush order allows SARS quarantine

Illness 'could have severe public health consequences'

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- President Bush issued an executive order Friday adding Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome to the list of communicable diseases for which a person can be quarantined.

The order reads that SARS, a disease first recognized late last year in China, is "associated with fever and signs and symptoms of pneumonia or other respiratory illness, is transmitted from person to person predominantly by the aerosolized or droplet route, and, if spread in the population, would have severe public health consequences."

SARS -- characterized by high fever and breathing difficulties -- has infected more than 2,270 people, killing 79, according to the World Health Organization's Web site. It has spread to 16 countries, including the United States. No U.S. deaths have been reported.

Friday's executive order brings to eight the number of diseases covered under possible quarantine orders by the federal government.

A spokesman for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the order should not be taken as any indication that the government wishes to quarantine anyone.

Health experts at the CDC still feel that quarantines are not necessary now, although they could become necessary if the situation gets worse.

Also on Friday, Sen. Charles Schumer, D-New York, urged the CDC to get directly involved in containing the spread of SARS in the United States.

While commending the CDC's efforts in investigating SARS worldwide, Schumer said it was time to deploy the center's epidemiologists and health experts to New York and others areas in the United States where the virus has recently spread.

"The CDC is doing great work by sending our experts to other countries to help with SARS outbreaks there," said Schumer.

"But as more and more SARS cases are discovered here at home, it's time for us in New York to get the same expert advice to prevent a full-blown outbreak."

Researchers say SARS probably began spreading from China's Guangdong province -- where there have been at least 1,000 cases -- to other countries in mid-February.

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