A computer virus dubbed the "love bug" temporarily crippled computers across the country late last week, including at medical centers and government agencies, forcing many to shut down e-mail systems and scramble to prevent serious damage.
At deadline no hospitals had reported problems affecting patient care, according to the American Hospital Association.
The virus spread last Thursday in the form of an e-mail titled "I LOVE YOU." Accompanying the e-mail was an attached document that when opened unleashed the virus on individual and network computers.
Hard drives and some electronic files then fell victim to the virus' wrath.
For six hours last Thursday, the roughly 30,000 nationwide employees of the Mayo Clinic were forced to substitute telephones for e-mail messages as computer personnel worked to eradicate the virus.
"The phone lines were red hot," said Mayo spokesman Jesse Bradley.
Although Mayo suffered the inconvenience of no e-mail for a few hours, no damage was done to its computer network.
"It was more of a nuisance," Bradley said. Although e-mail isn't directly tied to patient care, he added, the love bug virus did force some at Mayo to "think long and hard about how much they rely on this stuff."
At the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, the virus hit when an employee opened the message through Hotmail, an Internet-based e-mail system. Within a half hour the department had to shut down its e-mail network, which serves 1,400 users throughout Oklahoma.
"(The virus) spread through our whole e-mail system," said Terrance Turner, the department's director of information services. "It took us down real quick."
Patient services were unaffected, Turner said, but e-mail was still down Friday and he did not expect it to be back in service until early this week.
As reports of the love bug surfaced on the Internet, West Virginia University Hospital in Morgantown shut down its e-mail system at noon on Thursday as a precaution. The 401-bed hospital's e-mail network was down until 8: 30 Friday morning, but no data was lost as a result, a hospital spokesman said.
Some 2,000 computer users at Memorial Health Services, a five-hospital system in Long Beach, Calif., were without e-mail most of the day last Thursday as a result of the virus. Scott Joslyn, Memorial's senior vice president and chief information officer, emphasized that the virus had no effect on patient-care systems.
Computer viruses, Joslyn said, are part of the bargain in the Internet world. "The benefits of connectivity make these risks worth it overall."
HCFA, which administers Medicare and Medicaid, was apparently not affected; but the Department of Veterans Affairs, with 150 medical centers in its network, was hit "systemwide," said VA spokesman Steve Westerfeld.
The VA's system was up and running Friday morning, Westerfeld said.
According to wire reports last Friday, the Philippine National Bureau of Investigation had identified a possible suspect, a 23-year-old man from Manila.