University responds to SARS threat



As the global threat of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome increases, the University and Yale-New Haven Hospital are taking steps to prepare for the mysterious disease should it appear in New Haven.

In a campuswide e-mail message April 4, University Secretary Linda Lorimer said faculty, staff and students should postpone nonessential travel to areas affected by SARS until further notice. Lorimer said any member of the Yale community who must travel to the areas, which are mostly in Asia, should immediately proceed to University Health Services upon returning to campus.

“There may be members of the University community planning trips to or through these regions,” Lorimer said in the e-mail. “We urge you to give the most careful consideration as to whether such travel is absolutely essential, and, if the travel is not essential, to postpone your trip until the situation has been clarified.”

The World Health Organization first identified SARS, a pneumonia-like viral disease from Asia, in late February. As of April 5, the WHO had confirmed at least 2,416 cases and 89 deaths in 18 countries.

Phillip Brewer, an emergency room physician at Yale-New Haven Hospital, said the hospital is following preliminary guidelines issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. In order to confirm a SARS case, a suspected carrier must exhibit the three symptoms outlined by the WHO. These include a fever of 102 degrees Fahrenheit or more, respiratory problems such as coughing, shortness of breath, or chest pains, and travel in the last ten days to endemic areas or contact with someone who is a known carrier or suspected carrier of SARS.

“We have a heightened degree of vigilance,” Brewer said. “We are actively screening people and asking the appropriate questions to screen for the possibility of SARS.”

Brewer is an assistant professor of emergency medicine at the Yale School of Medicine.

Brewer said as of April 4, there had been two suspected cases of SARS in Connecticut. There have been no proven cases.

“There’s always a little bit of panic when things happen,” he said. “But as far as actual cases, we haven’t seen it yet.”

University Health Services Director Paul Genecin said SARS is a highly contagious and mysterious disease.

“There is still a lack of clarity on how to handle people coming from affected areas,” he said. “People are advised to call in if they have symptoms as they need to be evaluated immediately.”

While the disease is highly contagious, Brewer said brief, casual contact with affected individuals does not pose great risk of infection.

“We know that when using proper isolation techniques, the risk to health is very low,” Brewer said. “We’re certainly not panicking about it.”

Brewer said the fatality rate from SARS is approximately 3.5 percent. Healthy individuals should have no problems recovering from infection, Brewer said.

“A healthy 20-year-old college student is pretty unlikely to die from SARS,” Brewer said. “The people dying are older and have pre-existing medical conditions.”

Brewer said because much is still unknown about the disease, there is not a defined course of treatment.

“It’s kind of a strange thing when somebody really gets sick like that, and you can’t do much about it, except give them supportive care,” he said. “There’s no magic antibiotic that you can give them to make them better. That’s scary.”

Genecin said the latest news about SARS as it relates to the Yale community will be posted on the University Health Services Web site at www.yale.edu/uhs.

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