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Patient with SARS-like symptoms treated in Berkeley County

April 24, 2003|by CANDICE BOSELY

martinsburg@herald-mail.com

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - Berkeley County health officials are treating a person who returned from China with SARS-like symptoms, but said the patient's condition is improving rather than worsening.

"With SARS, they become more ill and the temperature continues to go up. This person's temperature has rapidly returned to normal," said Sandra LeMaster, nurse director at the Berkeley County Health Department.

LeMaster said when the patient recently returned from an overseas trip, the person had a temperature above 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit and a cough, which are symptoms of SARS, which is an acronym for severe acute respiratory syndrome.

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Although the patient's condition is improving, health officials will continue to monitor the patient for several days. The patient came forward late last week.

People who came into contact with the patient have not developed any SARS-like symptoms, LeMaster said.

"This should not render a cause for alarm," LeMaster said. "It is not a confirmed case. It has never been a confirmed case."

The patient who suspected SARS called a physician from home. The physician immediately contacted the health department, and arrangements were made for the patient to go to City Hospital's emergency room. There, medical workers wearing protective gear met the patient and kept the person isolated, LeMaster said.

LeMaster declined to give the patient's gender or age.

In Jefferson and Berkeley counties, health officials say no potential SARS cases have arisen. LeMaster said she believes the Berkeley County case was the first potential SARS case in the state.

People who suspect they might have SARS should ask themselves several questions, including whether they recently have been to an area that has had a number of confirmed SARS cases, including China, Hong Kong and Toronto. A person also must have a temperature of 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit or higher and be suffering from a respiratory problem such as a cough, LeMaster said.

If a person meets all of the risk factors, he or she should call a doctor immediately. The person should not show up unannounced at a doctor's office because of the risk of infecting others.

LeMaster said she was pleased with the way health department officials handled the potential SARS case. She had sent out information to all physicians, telling them what to do if a person with SARS symptoms arrived.

In this case, everyone was prepared when the patient came to the hospital.

"It was just like clockwork," LeMaster said.

Although SARS is highly contagious, everyone can help by washing their hands, LeMaster said. Covering one's face while coughing or sneezing does little good if the person sneezing or coughing then shakes someone's hand or touches something in a public place.

"There are so many things that proper and adequate hand-washing can prevent," LeMaster said.

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