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Co-worker in Florida infected with SARS

Okaloosa County Health Department Director Dr. Karen Chapman and School Superintendant Don Gaetz address citizens about a student suspected of having SARS in Niceville, Florida.
Okaloosa County Health Department Director Dr. Karen Chapman and School Superintendant Don Gaetz address citizens about a student suspected of having SARS in Niceville, Florida.

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TALLAHASSEE, Florida (CNN) -- A Floridian who contracted SARS abroad has infected a co-worker, according to the Florida Department of Health.

The Florida case marks the first time SARS, or severe acute respiratory syndrome, may have been spread to someone other than a household member or health-care worker in the United States.

Other than announcing the case in a brief statement Wednesday, Florida health officials did not release any details.

A spokeswoman for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia, said Thursday that officials are looking into the case and circumstances surrounding the possible infection.

"Office workers might have similar types of contact as family members would, such as sharing work spaces or sharing a break room," said the CDC's Kathy Harben.

In addition, health officials were trying to determine Wednesday if a 6-year-old on the Florida Panhandle and a 4-year-old in Miami have SARS. According to the CDC, the majority of SARS patients around the country have been previously healthy adults, ranging in age from 25 to 70.

There is no diagnostic tool available to identify symptoms positively as SARS, therefore, all cases that fit the SARS profile are classified as "suspected."

In the Panhandle case, a child has been pulled from classes at Edge Elementary School in Niceville, north of Destin, and remains at his Okaloosa County home.

"The child is at home recovering and doing well," said Okaloosa County Health Director Dr. Karen Chapman. "The child will remain on home isolation until 10 days after symptoms resolve."

As a precautionary measure, educational fact sheets are being handed out to employees and volunteers at the child's school.

The child may have contracted the disease from a female relative who recently traveled to Singapore, one of the Asian nations hit hard by SARS. The woman got sick three days after she returned, said Charlene Echols, nursing director for the Santa Rosa County Health Department. Santa Rosa is a county adjacent to Okaloosa.

The woman had a fever and cough and contacted the county health department, Echols said. She is in voluntary isolation at home, Echols added.

CDC personnel called people on the woman's flights to notify them they had traveled with someone suspected of having SARS, and those people were told what symptoms to watch out for, Echols said.

The woman flew more than 10 days ago, so fellow passengers would be past the 10-day incubation period in which symptoms of SARS are expected to appear, Echols said.

Echols would not give specific dates for when the woman traveled or returned home.

Dominique Durand, with son Nathanal Hyland, 4, and husband Adam Hyland, asks about the suspected SARS case in Niceville.

There are 166 suspected SARS cases in 30 U.S. states, and no deaths have been reported, according to the CDC. Worldwide, there are 2,722 suspected cases in 18 countries, including the United States, the World Health Organization said.

The World Health Organization and CDC said the disease is caused by a newly recognized coronavirus -- the same virus family that causes the common cold.

Anyone who has traveled to affected countries in Asia, or has been in close contract with someone who has, is advised to be aware of symptoms that include a fever of 100.5 or higher, dry cough and shortness of breath or difficulty breathing.

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