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Plane Quarantined In San Jose For SARS

An American Airlines flight from Tokyo was quarantined on the tarmac at San Jose's airport Tuesday after five people on board complained of symptoms like those of the mysterious new illness spreading through Asia, health officials said.

Two passengers and two crew members, plus a fifth unidentified person, complained of symptoms similar to those found in severe acute respiratory syndrome — which has afflicted hundreds in Hong Kong and killed at least 64 people worldwide.

It was not immediately clear when the people became ill, only that they reported to the crew during the flight that they "think they may have SARS," said Joy Alexiou, a spokeswoman for the Santa Clara County Public Health Department.

Alexiou added that "we're pretty sure four of the five transferred from Hong Kong to Tokyo."

As CBS News Correspondent Elizabeth Kaledin reports, all it took was complaints of coughs on board and it was grounded on the tarmac and surrounded by ambulances.

"After arrival at the airport, the persons who were reported to be symptomatic were escorted off the plane by paramedics," said Dr. Karen Smith of the Santa Clara County Health Dept.

Three first-class passengers were taken to a hospital, airport spokeswoman Cathy Gaskell said. Bob and Barbara Beom said they were sitting near those passengers and they showed no signs of sickness.

"It's an overreaction of some sort," Bob Beom said.

Flight 128 from Tokyo to Mineta San Jose International Airport stopped on the tarmac short of the gate midmorning Tuesday, and ambulances lined up near the plane as the 125 passengers and 14 crew members waited on board after the nine-hour flight.

American Airlines notified the airport that help was needed after "the captain was informed of a passenger needing medical assistance," said Todd Burke, a spokesman for the airline.

More than 1,600 cases of the illness have been reported so far worldwide, including 69 cases in the United States. None of the U.S. cases was fatal.

Doctors still believe SARS can only be spread through close face to face contact and that the incubation period is about ten days. That means that only people sitting closest to the coughing passengers are at highest risk. It also means that people who were exposed on the plane are already back in their communities and may not come down with any symptoms for days, reports Kaledin.

"Here in the USA we are able to recognize cases in travelers as they arrive and we are working very quickly to take care of those people and help implement measures that will help prevent the spread," says Dr. Julie Gerberding, Director of the CDC.

Last week, evidence surfaced that SARS can be caught on airplanes. Hong Kong authorities said several tourists on a China Air flight caught the disease after flying with another SARS-infected passenger.

Singapore Airlines said an attendant was sickened after traveling on a recent flight that carried an SARS-stricken doctor, and officials in Connecticut said a suspected case there involved a college student who had gone overseas on spring break.

The World Health Organization urged airlines to question passengers at check-in and refusing to board those who might have the illness.

"This thing seems to spread a little easier than first anticipated, so we want to take every precaution," Alexiou said.

In Canada, the mystery illness claimed its fifth and sixth victims, health officials said Tuesday.

Canada's health minister also acknowledged that little was known about severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, but said proper steps have been taken to control its spread.

All the SARS-related deaths in Canada have occurred in Toronto, the nation's largest city. The majority of the nation's 129 probable or suspected cases have occurred here.

The illness was brought to Canada by air travelers from Asia.

Health Minister Anne McLellan said information cards and questionnaires have been given to international travelers at Toronto's Pearson International Airport, but interviewing the 36,000 international travelers using the airport each day would be unworkable and unnecessary.

Prime Minister Jean Chretien called the SARS outbreak "a very serious problem" but added, "We should not panic. We hope it is confined, but you never really know."

SARS usually begins with a fever of more than 100.4 Fahrenheit, sometimes with chills and headache and body aches. After two to seven days, patients may develop a cough. Other symptoms can include shortness of breath, difficulty in breathing and pneumonia.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends postponing non-essential trips to mainland China, Hong Kong, Singapore and Hanoi, Vietnam.

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