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County on alert for SARS

Veronica Whitney

– Temperature greater than 100.4°F.

– One or more diagnosed respiratory illnesses, such as cough, shortness of breath, difficulty breathing or hypoxia (lack of oxygen in bloodstream).

– Recent travel – within 10 days of onset of symptoms – to People’s Republic of China, Hong Kong, Vietnam, Singapore and Toronto.

– Close, recent contact with a person suspected to have SARS.

Probable Case

Same as suspect cases, as well as:

– Radiographic evidence of pneumonia or respiratory distress syndrome.

– Autopsy findings consistent with respiratory distress syndrome without an identifiable cause.

At a glance

Symptoms of SARS

In general, SARS –or severe acute respiratory syndrome – begins with a fever greater than 100.4°F. Other symptoms may include headache, an overall feeling of discomfort and body aches. Some people also experience mild respiratory symptoms. After two to seven days, SARS patients may develop a dry cough and have trouble breathing.

On the Web: http://www.cdc.gov

For more information call the CDC Emergency Operations Center at (770) 488-7100 or the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment SARS hotline at (303) 692-2667.

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As cases of severe acute respiratory syndrome, better known as SARS, add up every day around the world, local medical officials say they are prepared to treat patients with the disease.

“We have trained our staff on isolation and infection control procedures,” said Sarah Moody, senior vice president of operations at the Vail Valley Medical Center. “We also have sent down information on signs and symptoms to look for.”

Hospital employees have seen no evidence of SARS so far, Moody said.

“A month ago, we thought we had a SARS case,” she said. “A person came in with severe pneumonia. It gave us an opportunity to go over the procedures. We took all precautions with this person until we ruled SARS out.”

The flu-like disease has killed nearly 400 people and infected at least 5,400 in more than 20 countries, including the United States, where none of the deaths have been reported.

“At this point, all we are doing is staying informed. No SARS cases have been reported in the county,” said Kathleen Forinash, Eagle County director of Health and Human Services.

Although Eagle County gets plenty of international visitors, there’s no reason to be concerned, Forinash said.

“There are no measures that the county is planning to take at this point,” she said. “We’re keeping informed about the situation, we receive daily e-mails and updated information from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. They keep us very well posted on what is happening in Colorado and around the world.”

More infections

In Colorado, three new suspected cases of SARS were reported April 25, bringing to 11 the number of illnesses in the state.

In the United States, health authorities said they are aware of 52 likely cases of SARS, and another 220 people suspected of having the potentially deadly virus were being monitored.

The three new victims in Colorado had visited China, said Doug Benevento, executive director of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

“”All 11 of the suspect SARS cases in Colorado are the direct result of travel to the Far East,” Benevento said. “However, as stated last week, Coloradans should not overreact and treat people without symptoms differently on the basis of their travel history.”

Of the three new cases, two patients have recovered and the third did not require hospitalization.

In Colorado, none of the 11 suspected SARS cases have been serious, and no one has passed on the disease to family members or health care workers, said Dr. Ned Calonge, state epidemiologist.

Calonge said anyone returning from a country with a large number of SARS cases is evaluated at airports if they are reported ill.

Colorado victims have been cooperating with requests that they quarantine themselves.

“The important thing in preparedness is information,” Forinash said.

“The matter of being able to isolate the cases could mean the difference between spreading the disease or not. In Vietnam, it seems they’ve been successful containing the spread of the disease because they have done quarantines.”

Local training

Employees at the Eagle County Regional Airport had a training session last month where they were told what to do if there was an outbreak of SARS in an aircraft.

“Right now, we only get two daily flights from and to Denver,” said Mark Davidson, director of the airport. “We don’t have any direct international traffic, all our international visitors clear customs in other airports.”

Safety measures to protect against SARS may be implemented this summer at the Vail Valley Jet Center, where some 350 international flights a year land after clearing customs somewhere else, said Bryan Burns, president of the facility.

“If the SARS threat continues,” Burns said, “we may do something by mid-June, when international visitors will be coming for the World Forum.”

The primary way that SARS appears to spread is by close person-to-person contact. Most cases of SARS have involved people who cared for or lived with someone with SARS, or had direct contact with infectious material – respiratory secretions, for example – from a person who has SARS.

The Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has advised Americans to postpone trips to China, Vietnam and Singapore. The World Health Organization this week scrapped a week-old warning to put off trips to Toronto.

Veronica Whitney can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 454, or at vwhitney@vaildaily.com.


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