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Virus Starts Like a Cold But Can Turn Into a Killer

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  • Virus Starts Like a Cold But Can Turn Into a Killer

    Virus Starts Like a Cold But Can Turn Into a Killer

    By Rob Stein
    Washington Post Staff Writer
    Tuesday, December 11, 2007; A01

    Infectious-disease expert David N. Gilbert was making rounds at the Providence Portland Medical Center in Oregon in April when he realized that an unusual number of patients, including young, vigorous adults, were being hit by a frightening pneumonia.

    "What was so striking was to see patients who were otherwise healthy be just devastated," Gilbert said. Within a day or two of developing a cough and high fever, some were so sick they would arrive at the emergency room gasping for air.

    "They couldn't breathe," Gilbert said. "They were going to die if we didn't get more oxygen into them."

    Gilbert alerted state health officials, a decision that led investigators to realize that a new, apparently more virulent form of a virus that usually causes nothing worse than a nasty cold was circulating around the United States. At least 1,035 Americans in four states have been infected so far this year by the virus, known as an adenovirus. Dozens have been hospitalized, many requiring intensive care, and at least 10 have died.

    Health officials say the virus does not seem to be causing life-threatening illness on a wide scale, and most people who develop colds or flulike symptoms are at little or no risk. Likewise, most people infected by the suspect adenovirus do not appear to become seriously ill. But the germ appears to be spreading, and investigators are unsure how much of a threat it poses.

    "This virus has the capability of causing severe respiratory illness in people of all ages, regardless of their medical condition," said John Su, a disease investigator for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention based in Texas, where the largest outbreak is tapering off at an Air Force base after 10 months. Other outbreaks have been reported in Washington state and South Carolina, along with a single case in an infant in New York City.

    "What people need to understand is that there is a virus out there that can make you very, very sick," Su said. "If you have a bad cold and your symptoms keep getting worse, go see your doctor. This is nothing to be necessarily alarmed about. But it is important to be aware that this bug is out there."...
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