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Pneumonia threat spreads

Geneva, March 15 (Reuters): The World Health Organisation (WHO) warned today of a worldwide health threat as a mystery killer pneumonia spread from east Asia to other parts of the globe.

Releasing a rare “emergency travel advisory”, the UN health agency said an ill passenger had been taken to an isolation unit in Frankfurt, Germany, today after being removed from a plane en route from New York to Singapore.

Some 155 other passengers who had been due to change planes or stay in Frankfurt were placed in quarantine there, while the remaining 85 passengers and 20 crew on the Singapore Airlines flight continued their journey, German officials said.

A spokesman for the Geneva-based WHO said there were reports two people had died in Canada, taking the death toll to nine worldwide since the first outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), an atypical pneumonia whose cause is not yet known, was detected in China in February.

“This syndrome, SARS, is now a worldwide health threat,” WHO director-general Gro Harlem Brundtland said.

Among the dead is an American businessman taken ill in Hanoi after visiting Shanghai. He died on Thursday in Hong Kong where 47 cases have been reported. Some 40 people were being treated in Hanoi, where one nurse died today, according to local health officials. Cases have also been reported in Indonesia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand.

WHO spokesman Dick Thompson said the passenger taken from the plane in Frankfurt was a Singapore doctor who had visited New York after treating some of the first suspected SARS patients in Singapore.

“If the suspicion (of pneumonia) is confirmed, the transit passengers will have to remain under observation in quarantine for seven days in order to diagnose any possible infection and prevent the disease spreading,” the social affairs ministry in the state of Hesse, which includes Frankfurt, said.

WHO issued its first global alert for 10 years earlier this week because of the speed at which the disease travels and because patients are not responding to the usual treatments for pneumonia, Thompson said.

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