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Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) Information from World Health Organization

Following is information from a 3/13/2003 WHO press release that provides information on how to:

  • Recognize SARS symptoms;
  • What airlines are to do if a passenger or crew member is displaying symptoms; and
  • WHO’s definitions of suspect and probable cases. 

15 March 2003 | GENEVA -- …“This syndrome, SARS, is now a worldwide health threat,” said Dr. Gro Harlem Brundtland, Director General of the World Health Organization. “The world needs to work together to find its cause, cure the sick, and stop its spread.”

For updated information visit http://www.who.int/csr/sars/en.

TRAVELLERS INCLUDING AIRLINE CREW: All travelers should be aware of main symptoms and signs of SARS which include:
high fever (>38°C)
AND
one or more respiratory symptoms including cough, shortness of breath, difficulty breathing
AND one or more of the following:
close contact* with a person who has been diagnosed with SARS

recent history of travel to areas reporting cases of SARS.

In the unlikely event of a traveler experiencing this combination of symptoms they should seek medical attention and ensure that information about their recent travel is passed on to the health care staff. Any traveler who develops these symptoms is advised not to undertake further travel until they have recovered.

AIRLINES: Should a passenger or crew member who meets the criteria above travel on a flight, the aircraft should alert the destination airport. On arrival the sick passenger should be referred to airport health authorities for assessment and management. The aircraft passengers and crew should be informed of the person’s status as a suspect case of SARS. The passengers and crew should provide all contact details for the subsequent 14 days to the airport health authorities. There are currently no indications to restrict the onward travel of healthy passengers, but all passengers and crew should be advised to seek medical attention if they develop the symptoms highlighted above. There is currently no indication to provide passengers and crew with any medication or investigation unless they become ill.

In the absence of specific information regarding the nature of the organism causing this illness, specific measures to be applied to the aircraft cannot be recommended. As a general precaution the aircraft may be disinfected in the manner described in the WHO Guide to Hygiene and Sanitation in Aviation.

As more information has become available, WHO-recommended SARS case definitions have been revised as follows:

Suspect Case
A person presenting after 1 February 2003 with history of:
high fever (>38°C)
AND
one or more respiratory symptoms including cough, shortness of breath, difficulty breathing
AND one or more of the following:
close contact* with a person who has been diagnosed with SARS
recent history of travel to areas reporting cases of SARS.

Probable Case
A suspect case with chest x-ray findings of pneumonia or Respiratory Distress Syndrome
OR
A person with an unexplained respiratory illness resulting in death, with an autopsy examination demonstrating the pathology of Respiratory Distress Syndrome without an identifiable cause.

Comments
In addition to fever and respiratory symptoms, SARS may be associated with other symptoms including: headache, muscular stiffness, loss of appetite, malaise, confusion, rash, and diarrhea.

Until more is known about the cause of these outbreaks, WHO recommends that patients with SARS be isolated with barrier nursing techniques and treated as clinically indicated. At the same time, WHO recommends that any suspect cases be reported to national health authorities.

WHO is in close communication with all national authorities and has also offered epidemiological, laboratory and clinical support. WHO is working with national authorities to ensure appropriate investigation, reporting and containment of these outbreaks.

*Close contact means having cared for, having lived with, or having had direct contact with respiratory secretions and body fluids of a person with SARS.

For more information contact:

Dick Thompson - Communication Officer

Communicable Disease Prevention, Control and Eradication

WHO, Geneva

Telephone: (+41 22) 791 26 84

Email: thompsond@who.int

For more information from the Centers for Disease Control, click here.