THREE East Lancashire people suffering SARS-like symptoms have sought medical advice after travelling in the Far East.

And travel agents in the region have announced a mixed response to the outbreak from holidaymakers and business travellers flying oversees.

So far around 235 people have died worldwide from the SARS virus while more than 4,000 have been infected.

Hong Kong - which has suffered 99 deaths - is currently the worst country to be affected while Toronto in Canada has had the worst outbreak outside Asia.

Dr John Asprey, of the East Lancashire Health Protection Unit, today revealed that three travellers had independently sought medical advice in East Lancashire after travelling around China and Hong Kong.

All were given assurances that their symptoms, although similar to SARS, were not linked to the virus.

Students from Stonyhurst College in the Ribble Valley were also told not to return to their homes in the Far East over the Easter holidays for fear that they might bring back the deadly SARS virus.

Dr Asprey said: "There is no problem in this country and there has only been one case of contamination on English soil. The rest have been imported. We have discussed the matter with Stonyhurst."

The World Health Organisation has issued a revised international travel warning advising against all non-essential travel to Hong Kong and the southern Chinese province of Guandong.

Steve Shutt, director of specialist business travel organisers Tatham Travel, in Whalley, said: "In the last week we have noticed a number of cancellations."

But Paul Astley, managing director of PA Travel Ltd, Blackburn, said: "People tend to put these things into perspective. There have been over 200 deaths - but thousands of people die from flu in the US ever year."


* SARS stands for severe acute respiratory syndrome and the first case came to light in Hong Kong at the end of February.

* The main symptoms are a high fever (over 38C) associated with one or more respiratory symptoms, including a cough, shortness of breath and difficulty breathing.

* The worldwide death toll currently stands at 235 and the number of infections have passed the 4,000 mark. There have been six cases in Britain.

* The cause of SARS has not yet been confirmed but is thought to be due to a virus that was spread by inhaling the droplets released by an infected person coughing or sneezing, although a cluster of cases in central Hong Kong has caused concern that other routes of transmission may be at work.

* SARS has an incubation period of between two and 10 days.

* Approximately three to four per cent of people who have contracted the disease have died as a result although most people have a change of making a full recovery, especially if the disease is caught early.