Mystery Illness Checked on California Jet

SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) -- 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.

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

Canada's health minister also acknowledged that little was known about 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 there.

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

It was not immediately clear when the people on the plane in California 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.''

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 were fatal.

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.

Alexiou said the passengers and crew members on the American flight who feel sick would be transported to a hospital for chest X-rays and to have their travel history checked before they are classified as suspected cases of SARS.

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

Others on the plane will be given medical advice and allowed to depart _ but told to immediately contact a doctor if they develop any symptoms, she said.

Also Tuesday, Syracuse University announced it had cut short its semester-long study-abroad program in Hong Kong and called the students back home because of worries over the illness. Fifteen of the program's 31 students are enrolled at Syracuse, the rest at other schools. Authorities in Massachusetts said a baby girl adopted in China was identified Tuesday as the third suspected case there.

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. While some SARS cases have been reported in Canada, there's no sign of widespread community spread, so CDC isn't advising against travel to or from there.