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SARS Outbreak

Florida health officials are confirming a fourth suspected case of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome in the state. The latest suspected patient is a 53-year-old woman from Miami-Dade County.

Earlier this week, health officials confirmed two previous patients in Miami-Dade and one in Alachua County are suspected of having the virus. The state health team is committed to staying on top of the emerging threat.

The majority of people believed to have the potentially deadly virus known as SARS are in Asia, so far all of the Florida patients with symptoms recently returned from visiting the far east.

State epidemiologist Dr. Steve Wiersma says none of the 100 cases in the U.S. originated in this country and there is no reason to panic.

"Our phone is ringing off the hook. We're getting a lot of calls as well as all 67 county health departments. We're following those up. Despite all those phone calls and all those possible SARS cases, we have only four that meet that suspect case definition at this time," said Dr. Wiersma.

The governor says he's confident the state health department is on top of the SARS crisis. But he has some real concerns if it gets any worse

"This is a significantly serious health issue that could imperil our economy. It is, as I understand it, there is not a cure as of yet," said Gov. Bush.

The head of the state health department shares the governors concerns because the illness is so new.

For now, he mission is public education and keeping suspected patients isolated. So far none of Florida's SARS cases are believed to be life threatening, and only one patient is hospitalized.

The three suspected patients who are not hospitalized have voluntarily isolated themselves at their homes. The state has the ability to quarantine suspected patients, but has not felt the need to do so.

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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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