Skip to comments.No Plans for SARS Quarantine in US, Experts Tell Senate Panel
Posted on 04/08/2003 8:27:58 AM PDT by kattracks
(CNSNews.com) - No one in the United States has been quarantined for severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), nor is there any plan to do so at this time, experts testified before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee on Monday.
President Bush signed an executive order on Friday adding SARS, the Asian super-virus, to the list of quarantinable diseases under the Public Health Service Act.
"What the executive order does is give us the authority to quarantine for SARS in the same way that we can quarantine for other communicable diseases like cholera," Julie Gerberding, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), said.
"So it's just simply adding SARS to a list of diseases that already, if necessary, we can take action to prevent spread within the community. So it is a precaution, a 'just-in-case' kind of executive order," she said
Gerberding told senators that as of April 3, 2,300 probable or suspected SARS cases had been reported worldwide to the World Health Organization (WHO) from 16 countries in the six weeks since the disease was discovered. These include 115 reported in America from 29 states. Thus far, 79 patients have died, but none in the U.S.
While cases of SARS continue to be reported from around the world, Gerberding said the disease is still primarily limited to travelers to Hong Kong, Hanoi, Singapore and mainland China; to health care workers who have treated SARS patients; and to people in close contact with SARS patients.
Based on available knowledge to date, she said the major mode of transmission is through droplet spread when an infected person coughs or sneezes, adding: "We are concerned about the possibility of airborne transmission and also the possibility that objects that became contaminated in the environment could serve as modes of spread.
"Of the 115 reported suspected cases among U.S. residents, 109 have traveled to mainland China, Hong Kong, Singapore or Hanoi, Vietnam, four had household contact with a suspected case, and two are health care workers who provided medical care to a suspected case," Gerberding said.
SARS is a "novel coronavirus," Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease in the National Institutes of Health (NIH) told the senators.
Coronaviruses are best known as one of the causes of the common cold, he explained. However, they are common to both humans and animals, and research into vaccines developed for animals may prove useful in finding a SARS vaccine, according to Fauci.
"The fact that it (an inactive SARS virus) grows in monkey cells gives us optimism - though we haven't proven it yet - that a primate model might be a good model to test the vaccine," Fauci said, noting that the NIH, the CDC and other specialists around the globe are working on a vaccine.
One initial impediment in tracing SARS was the lack of openness by the Chinese government, said David Heymann, executive director of Communicable Diseases with the WHO. Because health care had been delegated to provincial levels of government in China, the national government lacked any authority to take action to try to control infectious diseases. But Heymann assured senators that China was now "a full global partner in this outbreak investigation."
"It changed one week ago when China instituted a national reporting system for SARS and some other infectious diseases, requiring provinces to report this information to Beijing. This information is now being made available to us," Heymann said. "So we see that this global response, although it has been long in coming, has included a partner that was reticent at the start."
Heymann said he hoped that as global response to SARS continues and the WHO revises international health regulations, "we will be able to require that all countries work closely when there is a disease of international importance."
E-mail a news tip to Steve Brown.
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Experts Say SARS Has Potential to Become Major Health Threat
(Panel testifies on SARS before Senate committee) (640)
By Kristofer Angle
Washington File Science Writer
Washington -- There is a very real possibility that the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) virus could continue to spread and evolve into a "major health threat," said Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. "It's real and it's serious."
"We're not really sure where (the virus is) going to go, because we are truly in the middle of the evolution of an epidemic," Fauci told the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions April 7.
"Every once in a while," Fauci said, "(viruses) evolve into a major public health threat, and others are little blips on the radar screen in that they stay confined to the time and the place when they initially emerged. With SARS, we know for sure that we're not dealing with just a blip on the radar screen."
SARS is believed to be caused by a type of coronavirus, which is only a single strand of RNA (ribonucleic acid). This point is of particular concern among the medical community because its structure makes it very easy to mutate.
"We're learning as we go," said Julie Gerberding, director for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). "It has the potential to spread very quickly, and we've seen that. And it has the potential to spread globally, we've seen that."
Gerberding said experts are especially concerned about so-called "hypertransmitters," or "superspreaders" of SARS. She added: "Some individuals may be especially infectious, they're especially contagious. It's always the chance that we'll be seeing a further spread of the infection here in this country just as it's been observed in Canada and elsewhere in the world."
Gerberding testified there is no known effective treatment for SARS, although the antiviral drug ribavirin is being tried. Gerberding said, however, "I think increasingly we're a little pessimistic that it's actually going to be a useful drug."
"There are no adequate therapies and no adequate vaccines," Fauci said. He added that this new virus is unlike anything he's seen.
Rresearch has already begun on a possible vaccine for SARS. The panel of experts, however, agreed that such a vaccine might be years away.
Gerberding further added that the biggest challenge right now is finding an effective diagnostics test. Symptoms of SARS in its early stages are consistent with the flu. This makes identifying and isolating SARS patients very difficult.
Also testifying before the Senate was David Heymann, executive director of Communicable Diseases at the World Health Organization (WHO). He said that the global response to SARS has been very good. "All countries are following our recommendations, and there's been a great rallying around this outbreak," he said.
Fauci noted that the helpful global response to SARS is a good test for responding to a possible biological terror attack. For example, he said major improvements in response capacity have been made since the anthrax attack in the United States in October 2001.
Gerberding advised U.S. citizens to avoid non-essential travel to the countries where SARS is especially problematic, namely Hong Kong, China and Singapore. "We don't want to alarm people unnecessarily, but we do want to express the fact that this is the beginning of a problem," Gerberding said.
Gerberding testified that the surgical masks, which have become widely used in Asia, are not a bad idea. But she added that CDC only recommends them for people in close contact with patients suffering from SARS.
Current figures place the worldwide SARS fatality rate at about 4 percent. As of April 8, 101 SARS related deaths have been confirmed. There are 148 potential cases in the United States.
For current information regarding SARS check the following Website: http://www.cdc.gov/ncidod/sars/ (The Washington File is a product of the Office of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)