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Last Updated:  Wednesday, 19 March, 2003, 20:30 GMT
Killer virus cases mount
Staff of French hospital in Hanoi
A French doctor was one of the 14 fatalities
Eleven European countries have reported confirmed or suspected cases of a potentially fatal mystery respiratory illness which is causing a global health scare.

All the cases appear to be in people who have arrived in Europe from South-East Asia where the disease, known as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), originated.

SARS, symptoms of which include high fever, tiredness and respiratory problems, can develop into a potentially fatal pneumonia.

So far 14 people have died and around 250 have been infected throughout the world.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has described the illness as a "worldwide health threat" and issued a rare emergency warning after cases were reported on three continents.

A spokesman for the WHO, David Heymann, said the disease was "on its way to containment" outside the region where it originated.

'Not under control'

But France's health minister suggested otherwise after the country's first suspected case was reported in Orleans on Wednesday.

"A case has been authenticated in France and it came from Hanoi," said Jean-Francois Mattei. "This shows the situation is not under control yet and we remain on maximum sanitary alert."

A French doctor has already died in Vietnam after treating an American victim of the disease.

Officials in the Irish capital Dublin, meanwhile, said a man hospitalised after returning from Singapore may not have had the disease.

And the WHO said two people who arrived in Switzerland from South-East Asia at the weekend showing some symptoms were definitely not infected.

The confirmed and suspected cases so far are as follows:

  • Austria - A 51-year-old woman displayed symptoms after arriving on Saturday from Shanghai

  • Belgium - A man was hospitalised after falling ill suddenly on flight back from business trip to Hong Kong, Singapore and China

  • Croatia - A seaman returned from Asia was quarantined after showing symptoms

  • Finland - No details known

  • France - Patient hospitalised in Orleans after return from Hanoi, Vietnam

  • Germany - Three Singaporeans including a pregnant woman were hospitalised from a New York-Singapore flight

  • Ireland - A man was hospitalised after return from Singapore

  • Romania - A woman is being treated in a Bucharest hospital after returning from China a week ago

  • Slovenia - A woman is recovering after a trip to Vietnam

  • Spain - A man was hospitalised in the western region of Estramadura after trip to Beijing in February

  • United Kingdom - A Manchester man in his 60s is much improved but still in hospital and undergoing tests after his return from Hong Kong; tests are also being carried out to find out if a second man from London contracted the disease after travelling from Taiwan to Heathrow via Hong Kong.

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