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CDC doctor with SARS symptoms heads home

Epidemiologist was treating cases in Taiwan

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ATLANTA, Georgia (CNN) -- An investigator with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is being flown home to the United States from Taiwan after developing symptoms of SARS, the respiratory disease he was treating when he fell ill.

Dr. Chesley Richards was expected to reach Atlanta this weekend, according to a CDC spokesman. An ambulance aircraft was to leave Taiwan on what would be Friday afternoon Eastern time, and planned to stop several times to refuel and to allow the crew to step out of the aircraft and remove the protective masks they will be wearing during the flight.

The epidemiologist was in Taipei, which has been hard-hit by the SARS epidemic, when he developed symptoms.

The doctor reportedly had followed all recommended precautions to prevent contracting severe acute respiratory syndrome, including wearing protective garb when he was in medical facilities, the CDC director said.

He developed a low-grade fever that went away, then returned, accompanied by a cough, said Dr. Julie Gerberding, the CDC's director. She said the man had been in Taiwan for several days, but she said she did not know when he arrived there.

Taiwanese officials have been struggling to contain the disease, but the numbers keep climbing. Authorities said they have logged 55 "probable" new cases during the past day.

Richards' illness deals a tough blow to Taiwan's efforts to contain SARS, because the doctor himself is an expert in disease control and was part of a team that had been assessing SARS-control procedures in the country.

The CDC now believes a hospital laundry worker who was sick with SARS for six days during the early days of Taiwan's outbreak might have infected thousands of people.

In Taiwan's hospitals -- where more than 90 percent of the cases have struck -- many doctors and nurses are ill or in quarantine, and more than 100 have quit their jobs as fears about caring for patients mounted.

The World Health Organization has said Taiwan has the world's fastest-growing SARS outbreak.

The situation in Taiwan has led the WHO to broaden its advisory against travel to all of the island. The health body previously warned travelers to defer trips to the capital, Taipei.

Meanwhile, Canadian health officials have reported 25 new possible SARS cases in Toronto, several weeks after the last positive diagnosis there and just days after the WHO dropped Canada from its list of "hot zones." (Full story)

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