Saturday, May 30

Virus hits over 13 countries


Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, a deadly flu-like virus, has
spread throughout the world with cases now being reported in over
13 countries.

The worldwide epidemic, which is believed to have started in
southern China, has reportedly infected 1,622 people since late
last year, and 58 people have died resulting from the virus,
according to the World Health Organization.

“This syndrome, SARS, is now a worldwide health
threat,” said Director General of the WHO Dr. Gro Harlem
Brundtland. “The world needs to work together to find its
cause, cure the sick, and stop its spread.”

After being infected, it could take three to seven days before
symptoms surface. Symptoms include high fever, chills, dry coughs
and body aches. These symptoms can escalate to the point where an
infected individual will have difficulty breathing.

Most of the cases have been reported in China and Southeast
Asia, and worried citizens from Hong Kong, Singapore and Taiwan are
starting to wear surgical masks and avoid public places like
shopping malls and movie theaters. Officials for these countries
have closed some schools and cancelled public events like concerts
and anti-war protests.

On Monday, health officials in Hong Kong also put a 10-day
quarantine on one apartment complex, where 213 people were
reportedly infected. Officials threatened tenants with fines or
jail time if they went against the orders.

“We haven’t done it before and we hope we
won’t do it again,” said Dr. Yeoh Eng-kiong, Hong
Kong’s health secretary.

Experts believed the disease was being transmitted like a common
cold virus ““ mostly through droplets, when victims with SARS
sneeze or cough and nearby people are affected.

But over the weekend, U.S. Centers for Disease Control director
Dr. Julie Gerberding suggested that the rapid spread of SARS in
places like Hong Kong might mean that the infectious agent causing
the disease may be airborne. If this were the case, the disease
could spread more quickly, without needing face-to-face contact
with infected individuals.

Gerberding did stress that most SARS patients do appear to
recover, and the death rate of SARS (58 deaths in 1,622 reported
cases) is lower than with influenza epidemics, which kills 26,000
people a year in the United States, and up to 500,000 people
worldwide.

Most reported cases have occurred in health workers directly
treating infected patients and in family members of sick
patients.

Dr. Carlo Urbani, the first WHO officer to identify the outbreak
of the disease, died of the illness over the weekend. Scientists
are not certain of the cause of the virus, nor do they have any
effective cures for it at this time. Experts said common
antibiotics and antiviral drugs have not been effective against the
virus.

However, scientists believe they are closing in on the virus
that may cause SARS, claiming that it may be a previously unknown
strand of a common cold virus called coronavirus.

The coronavirus can survive in the environment for up to three
hours, so it is possible that a contaminated object could serve as
a vehicle for transfer to somebody else, according to
Gerberding.

On Monday, officials at the CDC advised that ordinary
infection-control measures against the common cold should work to
prevent catching the virus that causes SARS. Health experts
recommend frequent hand-washing to stay healthy during the cold
season, particularly after any contact with body fluids.

The WHO, the CDC and other health agencies have issued travel
warnings and believe the virus has spread quickly throughout the
world as a result of international air travel. At this time, there
are no travel restrictions in place directly related to SARS, but
the CDC recommends that “nonessential and elective”
travel to parts of China and Vietnam be postponed until further
notice.

Health officials have also set up quarantine centers at major
international airports to help stem the spread of the disease.

Quarantine inspectors are warning travelers returning to the
United States from Hong Kong, China and Vietnam by giving them
health alert notices saying they may have been exposed to cases of
SARS while traveling abroad.

These travelers are advised to monitor their health for at least
seven days, to contact their physicians if they become ill with a
fever accompanied by a cough or difficulty in breathing, and to
inform their physician of any recent travel.

Currently, there are 59 reported cases of SARS in the United
States, with no reported deaths, according to the WHO. Nearby
Canada has reported 44 cases of SARS, with four deaths.

For more information about SARS go to www.cdc.gov. For
cumulative statistics on reported SARS cases, go to
www.who.int.


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