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All you need to know about SARS|
by ANASTASIA STEPHENS, Daily Mail
femail.co.uk - 8th April 2003
The dramatic emergence of a new type of pneumonia, Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome or SARS, which has so far claimed 90 lives, is causing alarm worldwide.
Although the majority of cases have been in Hong Kong and mainland China, the illness has already struck five Britons.
Here, we present a comprehensive guide to everything you need to know about SARS
Am I at risk?
So far, SARS has mainly affected people who have been travelling in Hong Kong or China, and family members or healthcare workers in close contact with them.
The cases in Europe have mainly struck international travellers who have spent time in the East.
'We cannot yet say if SARS is more likely to be life-threatening to the elderly, the young or the weak,' says Ian Simpson, spokesman for the World Health Organisation (WHO). 'Vulnerable people may simply be those who have been in closest contact with the virus.'
Do I have the symptoms?
The illness usually begins with a sudden fever. This may be associated with chills, headache and body aches as the immune system tries to fight the virus and cope with its toxic by-products.
Within 12 hours to several days, SARS patients may develop a dry, non-productive cough, fatigue and severe breathing problems. The danger with the cough is that, in some people, it can lead to respiratory failure because the infection interferes with the lungs' ability to absorb oxygen.
Inflammation, nausea and weakness contribute to the breathing problems. In 10 to 20 per cent of cases patients will require mechanical ventilation, and without urgent medical attention it can be devastating.
What should I do if I think I have SARS?
The earlier SARS is treated, the more successfully it can be brought under control. Currently, the best advice is to be aware of the symptoms, particularly if you have been travelling in Hong Kong, Singapore, Vietnam, Taiwan, and Beijing or Guangdong in China - and seek medical advice should you develop them within ten days of your return.
If you become ill suddenly with a temperature of more than 100.4 F (38C), accompanied by a cough or difficulty breathing, you should consult your doctor, informing them about any recent travel.
You should also tell them whether you remember being in contact with anyone you think had SARS symptoms. If you are worried about symptoms, phone NHS Direct on 0845 4647.
What treatment will I get?
You will need urgent medical assessment and often hospitalisation. A combination of antibiotics and antiviral drugs is used to treat the illness, but without knowing the cause there is no specific treatment.
Regimens so far have included antibiotics to treat any bacterial infection and antiviral agents such as oseltamivir or ribavirin.
Steroids, which help with breathing, have also been administered orally or intravenously to patients in combination with other antimicrobial drugs.
If breathing becomes difficult, you will be put on a ventilator. 'Treatment is mainly aimed at managing symptoms, keeping fever down and aiding breathing,' says Ian Simpson.
How likely is it that I will make a full recovery?
Nine out of ten people make a full recovery and are well enough to leave hospital after six or seven days. At this point, you may still have some symptoms, such as a dry cough, but you will be well enough to make a safe recovery.
What causes SARS?
Eleven top laboratories in ten countries are working together to identify the cause of the outbreak.
The latest theory is that SARS is caused by a new type of ' coronavirus'. These ring-shaped viruses are a common cause of mild to moderate upper-respiratory illness in humans, and are associated with breathing problems, gastrointestinal upsets and aching - a sign of general toxicity.
Researchers believe the suspected new virus may have mutated from an older coronavirus, or developed in farm animals and 'jumped' the species barrier to humans.
SARS is thought to have originated in Guangdong province in China, an agricultural area where people live in close proximity to their animals.
'People can catch illnesses from animals in the same way that they catch them from other humans - from droplets or sneezing,' explains Ian Simpson.
'Many animal illnesses cannot survive in people but, sometimes, a virus can mutate in a way that makes it infectious to humans.'
The other theory is that SARS is caused by a combination of a coronavirus and a paramyxovirus, a family of viruses that cause measles and mumps.
How would I catch it?
SARS appears to be spread between humans through droplet transmission - when someone coughs or sneezes and someone else breathes in the microscopic particles.
But it may also be possible that it can be transmitted through the air or from objects that have become contaminated - because the virus could survive in droplets outside the body for two or three hours.
Although SARS is spread in the same way as flu, it is less contagious-If someone is in the contagious-stage of flu, you could expect them to infect four to eight people in a few hours,' says Ian Simpson.
'Judging by the speed at which SARS has spread, it seems that carriers will infect one or two people in the same time period.'
'Nonetheless, some are more infectious than others. Certain people are known as "superspreaders" because they spread lots of a virus, even though they may not be particularly sick themselves.
'This makes it all the more necessary for those who have comparatively mild cases of SARS to ensure they keep human contact to a minimum while they are suffering symptoms.
'It is important to contain the spread of SARS because people who get ill, get very ill and require intensive hospital care.
Should I wear a mask?
If you develop SARS or are recovering from the illness after hospitalisation and are going to be in a confined public space, wear a mask. It could be a surgical mask, available from chemists, or a mask designed for cyclists, which will prevent microbes from spreading and infecting others.
Alternatively, if you are travelling in a SARS risk area, for example Hong Kong, or are on a flight back from SE Asia, you might want to wear a surgical mask to prevent the risk of catching the illness from a potential carrier.
If I did catch it, are my family and friends at risk?
Limit interactions outside your home and don't go to work, school, or other public areas while you have symptoms, and for ten days afterwards.
During this period, you should cover your mouth and nose with a tissue before sneezing or coughing. You should also avoid sharing eating utensils, towels and bedding with other household members.
Is it safe to travel?
The WHO is currently advising people to cancel all non-essential travel to Hong Kong and Guandong province in China, the two main SARS hotspots.
Air passengers returning from these regions and elsewhere in SE Asia are being asked to monitor their health for ten days and to see a doctor if they get a sudden fever with a cough or have difficulty breathing.
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©2003 Associated New Media