March 28, 2003 – While there have been no cases of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome reported in the Virgin Islands, the Health Department is prepared, should any crop up here, according to a release from Health Commissioner Mavis Matthew.
SARS, as health professionals call the illness, appears to be the latest health threat plaguing the world. It is spreading rapidly from country to country.
According to officials at the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there have been reports in the United States of 59 cases in 22 states. The Associated Press said it appeared that most of those people had traveled to Asia, where the disease is believed to have originated.
Globally, 1,485 people in 15 countries are known to have become infected, and 53 of them have died.
Matthew said in a release that she has received information about SARS and its treatment from the CDC and has shared it with the territory's hospital medical directors and health-care providers.
Health-care professionals think a virus causes the disease. The first sign of infection generally is a fever, sometimes accompanied by chills, headache or body aches. Other symptoms include cough, shortness of breath or other difficulty breathing, and indications in X-rays of pneumonia or respiratory distress.
The CDC Web site recommends that anyone with such symptoms consult their health-care providers and report any recent travel to regions where SARS outbreaks have occurred or contact with anyone else having similar symptoms. The CDC recommends that patients with SARS receive the treatment indicated for anyone with "serious community-acquired atypical pneumonia of unknown cause." Such treatment may include antibiotics and/or antiviral agents.
According to information on the CDC Web site, the illness appears to be spread mainly by close contact with someone who is infected. "As with all infectious illnesses, the first line of defense is careful hand hygiene. As a general rule, it is good practice to wash hands frequently with soap and water," the site states.
SARS first came to the attention of medical researchers between November and February in China. It has spread throughout Asia, Europe and North America. The CDC is issuing health alerts to people arriving in the United States from China, Vietnam and Singapore.
To learn more about SARS, visit the CDC Web site.
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