South Dakota watching for SARS

South Dakota watching for SARS State health officials are on the watch for severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) but the illness has not been detected in South Dakota.

Dr. Lon Kightlinger, state epidemiologist, says the department of health has investigated several possible cases but all have been ruled out as SARS after testing of specimens at the state Public Health Laboratory and the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

SARS is a respiratory illness caused by a previously unrecognized Coronavirus. Since it was first recognized in East Asia at the end of February, 2,353 suspect cases and 84 deaths have been reported in 19 countries. As of April 4, the CDC was reporting a total of 100 suspect cases in the United States in 28 states. No SARS deaths have been reported in the United States.

SARS symptoms include fever of 100.5 degrees or higher, dry cough, shortness of breath, and difficulty breathing. Cases also report recent travel to China, Hong Kong, Vietnam or Singapore, or close contact with those who have recently traveled to China, Hong Kong, Vietnam or Singapore.

Individuals who experience these symptoms and have recently traveled to the indicated countries should see a doctor right away and inform them of their travel history.

CDC has recommended that individuals planning elective or non-essential travel to mainland China, Hong Kong, Singapore or Vietnam should consider postponing their trips. According to CDC, 94 of the 100 SARS cases in the U.S. have traveled to these countries. The remaining six were close household contacts of SARS cases or health care workers who had cared for them.

SARS appears to be transmitted by close face-to-face contact with a SARS patient. Direct contact with cough or sneeze droplets and body secretions from an infected person may also spread the virus.

Since the illness was recognized, the Department of Health has been providing regular updates to South Dakota health care providers to alert them to its possible spread and to share guidelines on infection control.

In addition to avoiding travel to areas where SARS is endemic, Dr. Kightlinger said the best prevention measures at this time are the same precautions taken for influenza and other respiratory illnesses � wash your hands, cover your mouth when sneezing or coughing and stay home when ill.

More information about SARS is available on the CDC Web site at www.cdc.gov/ncidod/sars/.

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