NEW YORK – The city's Health Department detained a foreign tourist against his will for a week after he went to a hospital with symptoms of SARS and refused to follow the department's 10-day isolation policy.
The Health Department said in a statement last week that all but one of the people in the city with possible severe acute respiratory syndrome (search) had remained isolated voluntarily.
In one instance, the department "isolated a potential SARS case in a local hospital to ensure infection control," the statement said.
Health Department spokesman Greg Butler declined to comment further early Monday.
But The New York Times reported Monday that the person was a tourist who went to an unidentified hospital because he had a fever and flu-like symptoms (search) and had stopped in Hong Kong on his way to New York.
A day later, his fever subsided, and he wanted to go sightseeing and to a basketball game, but was not permitted to leave, the Times said. The man's name and nationality were not released.
The department's policy is that people with suspected cases of SARS be isolated for at least 10 days, depending on the course of their illness.
In this case, because the man was on vacation, he could not be isolated in his own home, as is usually the procedure. And officials were concerned that if he isolated himself at a hotel, he might not stay the entire 10 days, or other guests could be at risk.
"It was certainly a judgment call, but our judgment was to err on the side of safety, in case he did have SARS he would not infect others in New York City," Health Commissioner Thomas Frieden said.
After being discharged, the man went straight to the airport, the Times said. It was not known whether he did have SARS, as there is no definitive test for the disease.
The Health Department's current SARS list consists of two probable cases and 18 suspected cases, all in people who have recently traveled to an area affected by the disease.
The city Health Department has forced hundreds of tuberculosis patients into involuntary isolation in the last 25 years, but only one other person with a disease other than tuberculosis. That was a traveler in 1994 with a suspected case of pneumonic plague.