SARS Outbreak

By: Erica Hurtt
By: Erica Hurtt

The death toll from the mysterious illness known as SARS has climbed to 100 worldwide. While most of the deaths are in China, the disease is moving to the U.S. and Illinois causing concern for health officials here in the Stateline.

It originated in Asia and is slowing moving across the world landing in 29 U.S. states and even in Illinois. SARS, or Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome has killed 100 people and infected thousands.

"Certainly it's something that we're watching very closely because we have great hope that we can prevent an outbreak. But if we just sit back and do nothing than it certainly would be easy to have a large outbreak," said Dr. Mike Thomas, Winnebago County Health Dept.

Illinois has reported at least eight cases of SARA, mostly in the Chicago area. Symptoms of the illness include fever, cough and difficulty breathing, very similar to the common cold and creating some panic among area residents.

"Especially with the recent change in weather. So people who come in here with a cough or a cold don't have SARA. They just have every other cold virus circulating in the community," said Scott Homann, Swedish American Hospital.

"Almost everyone that we've identified in the United States had traveled to Asia in the past 10 days," Dr Thomas said.

Doctors are working to stop the spread of the virus and find a cure. The Asia factor is helping health experts stop the spread by approaching travelers early on.

"I'm aware of three people who've come planes (from Asia) in Rockford in the past three weeks and none of the three have symptoms," Homann said.

China has come under fire for being slow to release information about severe acute respiratory syndrome. Health officials here in the Stateline say they're goal is to make sure that doesn't happen here.

Quarantines are being used in China and Canada to try and battle the virus and many countries are tightening their borders, rejecting people who have recently been in Asia. It's important to remember that only four percent of SARS cases have been fatal.

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SARS: Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome

Symptoms

  • A fever of greater than 100.4°, coughing and shortness of breath.
  • Other possible symptoms include chills, headache, general feeling of discomfort and body aches.
  • Death is caused by respiratory failure.

Transmission

  • SARS appears to spread through close contact, such as coughing or sneezing. It is possible that SARS can be transmitted more broadly through the air or from objects that have become contaminated.
  • Those most at risk appear to be family members and health care workers who have had close contact with an infected person.
  • SARS typically appears two to seven days after exposure.

Cause

  • Scientists have detected a previously unrecognized coronavirus in patients with SARS. While the new coronavirus is still the leading hypothesis for the cause of SARS, other viruses are still under investigation as potential causes.
  • Coronaviruses are a group of viruses that have a halo or crown-like (corona) appearance when viewed under a microscope. These viruses are a common cause of mild to moderate upper-respiratory illness in humans and are associated with respiratory, gastrointestinal, liver and neurologic disease in animals. Coronaviruses can survive in the environment for as long as three hours.

Treatment

  • Several treatment regimens have been used for patients with SARS, but there is insufficient information at this time to determine if they have had a beneficial effect.
  • Those suspected of having SARS are being quarantined. The best treatment is unclear because different medicines, both antibiotic and antiviral, have been used in different hospitals.
  • Doctors don't know why some victims die and others recover. It could be because of the many drugs they are being given, or just the normal course of the disease.

Origin

  • SARS was first recognized in Hanoi, Vietnam, on Feb. 26.
  • An outbreak of pneumonia of similar symptoms struck Guangdong province, China, last November and was only brought under control in mid-February.

Travel

  • U.S. health officials said travelers should consider postponing trips to China, Singapore or Vietnam.
  • People who visit areas affected by SARS will be given a special card when they re-enter the United States. The card says:
    “During your recent travel, you may have been exposed to cases of severe acute respiratory disease syndrome. You should monitor your health for at least seven days. If you become ill with fever accompanied by cough or difficulty in breathing, you should consult a physician.” Travelers should save the card and give it to a doctor in case symptoms appear.

Could SARS Be Related to Bioterrorism?

  • Not likely. Experts said the SARS is almost certainly a contagious infection. The head of the CDC, Julie Gerberding, said nothing about the pattern of the spread of the disease suggests bioterrorism.

Pandemic Facts

  • A pandemic is an epidemic over a wide geographic area -- possibly the entire world. Pandemics happen about every 30 years, and health officials long have feared the world is overdue for a major flu attack.
  • The last major pandemic was in 1918 and 1919. Forty million people worldwide died from the Spanish flu.
  • The flu killed more than a million people in 1957 and 1958, and another million in 1968 and 1969.
  • The Centers for Disease Control has a network of contacts in Asia that watches for flu outbreaks. To help identify and monitor SARS, the CDC has activated its emergency operations center to coordinate its teams in various parts of the world.

Source: The Associated Press and The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and contributed to this report.


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