HONG KONG (AP) – The global spread of the mysterious flu-like illness that has killed 10 people in the past three weeks appears to have started with a guest in a tourist hotel here.

Hong Kong health officials said yesterday that other guests who caught the disease then carried it to a Hong Kong hospital, Vietnam, Singapore and Canada.

Three of the seven people who stayed on the ninth floor of the Metropole Hotel died from severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS.

There are now 306 people sick with the disease, according to the World Health Organization. About half of those are in Hong Kong, the vast majority in Asia. There are 11 suspected cases in the United States.

The cause of the illness remains unknown, but experts believe the most likely explanation is a new virus. There is no known treatment.

Hong Kong health officials have traced the outbreak to a professor from China’s Guangdong province who stayed at the Metropole Hotel on Feb. 21-22. He died March 4.

His case bolsters the belief that the outbreak stems from one that began last November in the southern part of Guangdong, where 300 people were sickened and five died.

During the two days the infected Chinese professor stayed on the ninth floor, three women from Singapore were guests on the same floor.

After they returned home, they became ill. Singapore’s Health Ministry said all 34 Singapore SARS patients had been in contact with the three women.

An American businessman from Shanghai also stayed on the ninth floor of the Metropole before flying on to Vietnam and falling ill, officials said.

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