A global outbreak of a flu-like illness called Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome is forcing companies to reconsider travel plans already cut back by economic and war concerns, while also monitoring the health of their employees in regions hard hit by the disease.
The heaviest concentration of SARS has appeared in China, in the Guangdong province northwest of Hong Kong and in Hong Kong itself. Since November, doctors have treated 1,190 people in China, where 46 have died. Another 734 cases and 17 deaths were reported in Hong Kong, according to the World Health Organization.
The same region has seen a big boost in manufacturing during the past decade, with North American and European manufacturers building up plants to make everything from cell phones to cars.
``We've got 4,500 people there,'' said Al Cotton, public affairs manager for injection molder Nypro Inc. ``We have not yet been directly affected by it, but we're keeping an eye on them.''
Clinton, Mass.-based Nypro has three plants in the heart of the SARS hot zone - in Hong Kong, Shenzhen and Guangzhou, the capital of Guangdong province. It also is operating in Singapore, which has had 98 cases reported and four deaths.
Nypro already has eliminated most travel to the region, as have most businesses, following on the travel advisory issued by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The company also is monitoring anyone who absolutely must travel to the Asia-Pacific region for seven to 10 days after their return, and is developing an additional written policy.
``We've been following anything the CDC has recommended,'' Cotton said. ``That's been our major source for information.''
Delphi Corp., with 13 plants in China, also has cut travel and is continually monitoring the health of its employees, spokeswoman Paula Angelo said.
The company has frequently disinfected its regional headquarters in Singapore to cut the chances of the spread of SARS.
Asia is not alone in its travel restrictions. Continental Teves Inc., a supplier of tires, brake and stability systems, has extended its warnings to Toronto, which has seen six deaths and more than 60 cases reported.