7 Dead As SARS-Like
Mystery Virus Hits BC

By Allison Lawlor
The Globe and Mail

Public health officials are investigating seven deaths and dozens of infections after an outbreak of a SARS-like respiratory illness hit a B.C. nursing home.
The illness struck Kinsman Place Lodge in the Vancouver suburb of Surrey, infecting 97 out of 142 residents and 46 of 160 staff members since early July, Shaun Peck, B.C. deputy medical health officer, told a news conference on Thursday.
Staff and residents infected by the illness showed mild, cold-like symptoms such as runny nose but no fever -ó a symptom associated with severe acute respiratory syndrome. The majority of residents and staff have now fully recovered and none of the staff required hospitalization, public health officials said.
"There have been seven deaths, although only three of them have been directly associated with a respiratory illness," Dr. Peck told the news briefing. Pneumonia was a contributing factor in those three deaths. Two of the deaths being probed were patients already in palliative care and the other two were from vascular causes.
Officials said nursing homes such as the Kinsman Place Lodge can normally average four to five deaths a month.
B.C. officials stressed that it was not another outbreak of SARS, which has killed more than 40 people in the Toronto area so far this year. However, they said they are taking precautionary measures and treating the outbreak like the deadly disease until they know more about it.
"As a precautionary measure and in addition to the infection control measures already in place, Kinsmen Place Lodge will be considered a site where transmission of SARS virus may have occurred in residents or visitors since July 1, 2003," health authorities said in a news release.
The Fraser Health Authority is working with the B.C. Centre for Disease Control , the Provincial Health Officer and Health Canada to conclusively identify the cause of the outbreak.
Tests performed by the National Microbiology Lab in Winnipeg have yielded a range of results for possible viruses, including some positive results for both a virus similar to the SARS coronavirus and human metapnuemavirus.
"These laboratory findings are surprising given the nature of the outbreak," said David Patrick, director of epidemiology at B.C. Centre for Disease Control. "The symptoms and progression of illness are not consistent with SARS infection and there is no evidence anyone related to the outbreak has travelled to an affected area or had contact with a SARS case."
Dr. Patrick added: "While the virus looks like the SARS coronavirus, it doesn't appear to act like the SARS virus we've come to know."
Since the outbreak was first identified, Kinsmen Place Lodge has had visiting and admissions restrictions in place, including isolating residents who have shown symptoms of the illness. Staff at the facility have also been directed not to work at different facilities and sick staff told not to work.
"Until such time as we determine the cause through sound medical and clinical research, we are erring on the side of caution," said Roland Guasparini, medical health officer for Fraser Health Authority.
The outbreak peaked in late July and has since tapered off, with the last person developing symptoms three days ago, public health officials said.
Dr. Guasparini said the public should take normal precautions against the new illness, such as reducing contact with others if one has cold symptoms and maintaining hygiene.
Anyone who has visited Kinsmen Place Lodge after July 1 and has developed a cough and fever over 38 degrees is asked to contact BC NurseLine, by calling 1-866 215-4700 (within the province), or (604) 215-4700 (within the greater Vancouver area).
A handful of people in the Vancouver area contracted SARS during last spring's outbreak. But unlike Toronto, there were no deaths and no wider spread of the disease.
With a report from Canadian Press
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