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U.S. not ready if SARS returns

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Few hospitals have resources to handle outbreak, CDC says

Few hospitals have resources to handle outbreak, CDC says WASHINGTON — The potential for a SARS outbreak looms this winter, but experts told lawmakers Wednesday that most hospitals lack the staff and equipment to handle a crowd of patients with the disease.James Hughes of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention told a Senate subcommittee that most hospitals do not have adequate ventilation systems or isolation areas.And probably no hospital in the country meets new federal SARS-prevention guidelines, said Hughes, director of the CDC’s National Center for Infectious Disease. Hospitals need better patient screening to separate suspected cases of SARS as soon as they enter the hospital, he said.The CDC is developing tests to detect the virus, but Hughes said he did not know when they would be available.Dr. Marjorie Kanof, of the General Accounting Office, Congress’ investigatory arm, said early SARS detection is crucial. In most hospitals, an average of 100 patients share a ventilation system. The typical hospital has only one protective suit for the entire staff and one bed in total isolation for contagious patients.More than 8,400 SARS cases and 800 deaths have been reported worldwide, with health care workers particularly vulnerable to the disease. In the United States, there have been 139 suspected cases but no deaths from the disease. While SARS seems to be contained for now, Hughes said the United States should ready itself for the “sleeping giant.” If SARS reappears during the winter flu season, small hospital staffs and careless screening for SARS cases could speed the disease’s spread.When Toronto experienced a wave of about 250 SARS cases and 39 deaths, it took extraordinary measures:Hospital workers screened all incoming patients for the disease before they entered, designating four clinics for quarantined SARS patients.Staff members wearing full-body protective suites were assigned to treat SARS patients. Health workers in contact with the disease were not allowed to travel anywhere other than the hospital and their homes, and patients diagnosed with SARS were ordered to stay in their homes for 10 days.Police officers and Red Cross workers distributed food to the home-bound patients and set up supermarkets in hospitals.Kanof said preparation for a similar large-scale outbreak is much like that for a bioterrorism attack.”From the anthrax outbreak, we learned the importance of rapid communication to hospitals and the public,” Kanof told the subcommittee. “We’ve found that the more frequently a community encountered a previous natural disaster, they are better prepared to handle new disasters.”The SARS virus was first found in China. Within weeks of the first outbreak in February, the virus had spread to 29 countries.Subcommittee Chairman Norm Coleman (R-Minn.) said Congress should develop a national plan to prepare for a potential SARS outbreak.”We have nothing to fear but fear itself,” Coleman said. “And I believe with SARS, it’s the fear of the unknown.”(Source: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, By MICHELLE ORRIS, 31 July 2003)

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Posted On: 1 August, 2003
Modified On: 5 December, 2013

Created by: myVMC