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Tourist with SARS symptoms held for 10 days in N.Y.

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NEW YORK (CNN) -- An international tourist was held involuntarily for 10 days in a hospital in New York City after showing mild symptoms of SARS, according to the city's Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

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The tourist went to an unidentified hospital because he had a fever and flulike symptoms, and he had stopped in Hong Kong on his way to New York.

Health department spokesman Greg Butler said isolation is a commonly used public health practice for people showing symptoms of communicable diseases.

"All SARS patients are advised to remain in isolation until 10 days after fever subsides," Butler said.

People usually are allowed to isolate themselves at home, according to Butler. However, in the New York case, the person was a traveler and had to be isolated in a hospital, Butler said.

"We were erring on the side of caution," he said.

In isolation, a person who is sick or may be sick with a highly communicable disease is kept separate from others to prevent spread of the illness. Those who care for isolated persons wear protective clothing and take other infection control measures.

Isolation can take place in a hospital, home or other setting. It is different from a quarantine. A person in quarantine is not sick but may have been exposed to a highly communicable disease and is kept apart from others as a precaution.

Butler described the tourist's symptoms as "mild" compared with those reported in other parts of the world.

The man was released after 10 days in accordance with the department's guidelines. It's not known if he had severe acute respiratory syndrome since no test exists for the illness.

As of Saturday, the number of probable and suspected SARS cases in New York City is 20, according to the health department's Web site.

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