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Watching for SARS

Severe acute respiratory syndrome is a sometimes fatal illness that has spread rapidly through Asia and is now worldwide. It has killed at least 180 worldwide.

Some of the symptoms of the disease are: a high fever, shortness of breath and fatigue.

Federal officials with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security are monitoring travelers at the airport to prevent spread of the disease here. So far in Colorado, eight cases of what may be SARS have been reported. Health officials are waiting for test results. No one in the state has died of the disease.

Meanwhile in China, another dozen deaths from the pneumonia-like disease have been reported. That brings the country's total number of deaths to 79. The city of Beijing has also reported its number of suspected cases is 357 instead of their previous number of 37. The new, much higher numbers have cost the city's mayor, and the nation's health minister their jobs.

The new deaths come as a blow to China's argument it was not trying to downplay the SARS epidemic.

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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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