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Local SARS response plans formed

April 29, 2003|by TAMELA BAKER

tammyb@herald-mail.com

Washington County health officials say there's a response plan in place should a case of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome be reported here.

The SARS plan is consistent with procedures already in place for a communicable disease breakout or a bioterrorism attack, according to Washington County Health Department spokesman Rod MacRae.

Washington County Hospital also is preparing a response plan, according to Public Relations Director Maureen Theriault. She said the plan is being updated as new information comes in.

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The Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene reported two new suspected cases in the state last week, one in Baltimore and one in Anne Arundel County. Both involved people who had traveled to areas heavily affected by SARS. One had traveled to Toronto, the other to Guangdong province in China.

"I think we're all a bit concerned, frankly, because there are a lot of unanswered questions," MacRae said. He noted there is a big difference between "suspected" and "probable" cases, and that some suspected cases "may not turn out to be SARS. A couple of cases in Maryland have been discounted."

Health Department nurse Susan Parks said one factor in determining whether an illness could be SARS is whether the victim has traveled to an affected area or has been in close contact with someone who has the illness.

"If people have symptoms of SARS, they should first call their health care provider," who would ask them specific questions to determine whether SARS should be suspected, she said.

Symptoms include a fever sometimes accompanied by aches at the outset, followed by a dry, nonproductive cough that might progress to the point where insufficient oxygen is getting to the blood, according to the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta. No solid information is available on the duration of the disease; MacRae said it likely varies among individual cases. At present, the mortality rate stands at 5.9 percent.

Cathy Webb, Communicable Disease Program supervisor for the Health Department, said no test exists to confirm whether a patient has the illness, so health professionals only can determine whether a case is "suspected" or "probable."

If a suspected case were reported, she said, the ill person would first be isolated at home. "If they were really ill, they would be hospitalized in a negative pressure room" to decrease the risk of contamination, she said. Patients would remain isolated for 10 days after symptoms abate, she said, and all close contacts would be monitored for 10 days. "If one of those people get sick, the circle gets bigger," she said.

More information is available at the Health Department's Web site at www.washhealth.org.

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