The World Health Organization has released guidelines for the surveillance, alert, and management of any future outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) in a bid to contain an anticipated return of the disease this coming winter.
The lack of a reliable diagnostic test in the early stages of the disease and the similarity between symptoms of SARS and those of other seasonal respiratory diseases make it a difficult disease to identify. Even with a sophisticated surveillance system in place, the first cases will be difficult to detect. The WHO guidelines are to help countries to manage an outbreak. They identify three levels of risk for SARS, with different recommended levels of surveillance. The SARS outbreak highlighted poor coordination between the hospitals and the public health system. The guidelines also give a clear definition of what constitutes a SARS alert and recommendations on the public health management of a suspected outbreak. Developed countries may already have in place a mechanism for dealing with a major infectious disease, but the guidelines aim to help developing countries prepare for a potential outbreak. (Source: BMJ, 2003;327:411 (23 August) Jane Parry)