Acute Respiratory Syndrome
News of an unidentified
and potentially fatal respiratory infection spreading from South
East Asia has sent shivers down the spine of many health professionals.
For some it rang warning bells of the long heralded arrival of a
new form of flu that might have the potential to repeat the epidemic
that killed millions around the world in the early 20th century.
For others it brought back memories of the early days of HIV and
AIDS, when unusual and severe lung infections were one of the major
features of a mysterious new illness that couldn't be explained
by the medical knowledge of the day.
first appeared in the Guangdong province of China in November 2002
but was not reported to the World Health Organisation (WHO) at that
time. Then one of the doctors who had been treating people with
the syndrome, a Chinese professor of respiratory medicine, became
ill. Travelling to Hong Kong, he carried the highly contagious virus
that causes SARS with him, leading to an explosion of cases in the
province towards the end of February 2003.
in just a few weeks, international air travel has spread it around
the world. By the end of March 2003 a total of 1,622 cases and 58
deaths had been reported .
Cases have been
reported in China, Canada, Italy, Thailand, the UK, the USA and
many other countries. In four of these countries, including the
UK, there have only been 'imported cases' in travellers from abroad,
with no known local transmission. This means that the disease is
not spreading in these countries and residents of the country are
not at risk.
early reports that the outbreak had peaked and the number of those
infected was falling, new reports (including an outbreak in a Hong
Kong apartment block) are causing renewed concern. In the USA, the
Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has said that the
new developments may point to what could become a much larger epidemic.
Now SARS is
almost under control. China has reported no new cases in last two
causes Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS)?
Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) doesn't seem to be related
to influenza, and it certainly has nothing to do with HIV, but scientists
have yet to pin down exactly what infectious organism is to blame.
The prime suspect
at the moment is a type of virus called a coronavirus which is known
to cause respiratory infections. But scientists who have sequenced
the DNA of the virus say that it is not identical to known coronaviruses
seen before, and it may be a new strain. Alternatively there may
be a combination of different infectious organisms, especially in
in Hong Kong have developed a test to rapidly identify cases of
SARS based on a coronavirus test, and have recommended that the
syndrome is renamed 'coronavirus pneumonia' or CVP.
are the symptoms of SARS?
of SARS are the typical symptoms of a severe respiratory infection.
There have only been a few cases of SARS reported in the UK
so far, so if you have symptoms like these it is far more
likely that you don't have SARS but instead have a more typical
form of pneumonia usually seen in this country . However if
you have recently returned from abroad, particularly South
East Asia where the outbreak began, you may be at risk.
to spread there must be close contact with an infected person.
Most of those who have developed SARS in South East Asia have
been either hospital workers caring for SARS patients, or
close family members based in those countries. However, because
of the speed of international travel, cases have rapidly spread
around the world. SARS appears to be less infectious than
influenza, and the incubation period is short, from 2-7 days.
of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome
The main symptoms of SARS are:
- High fever (> 38°C).
- Dry cough.
- Breathing difficulties or shortness of breath.
- Muscular aches and stiffness.
- Loss of apetite.
- Malaise or tiredness Confusion.
- If you or one of your family develop symptoms of breathing
problems of any sort, talk to your doctor as soon as possible.
- Try not to worry too much about SARS - it is still very
rare especially if you haven't been abroad recently.
- If you have recently travelled, particularly to countries
like China or Hong Kong, you may be at greater risk.
- The Department of Health now recommend that people travelling
to Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of China and Guangdong
Province, China should postpone all but essential travel until more
is known about SARS. There is not yet any need to cancel or change
travel arrangements to any other country.