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SARS fear cancels Nike session

The threat of severe acute respiratory syndrome has prompted Nike to cancel a June gathering in Portland of its sales force from 11 Asian and Pacific Rim countries.

Nike expected more than 500 members of its national and international team as well as several hundred local employees to meet for a week at the Oregon Convention Center.

The company likes to bring the group together on occasion as a boost for morale, said Megan Ryan, Nike's director of Asia-Pacific communications.

But the Beaverton shoe and apparel company worried that the virus, known as SARS, would have put both the overseas travelers and local participants in jeopardy.

'Based on information we've been receiving from the World Health Organization and recommendations from our travel people,' Ryan said, 'we thought that to ensure the safety of our people in Asia and on the ground here in Portland, it would be best if they held their meetings in their own countries. Our number one priority is their safety.'

The mysterious respiratory virus was first reported a few weeks ago in China and other Asian countries. On March 21, the World Health Organization declared SARS 'an international health threat.' More than 100 deaths have been reported worldwide but none in the United States.

Initially, officials said perhaps 200 cases had been found in the United States. But with updated diagnostic definitions, that number may be lowered to about 30.

Ñ Don Hamilton