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Lung Disease & Respiratory Health Center

Protect Yourself Against SARS

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March 20, 2003 -- Although a mysterious pneumonia known as SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) is spreading across the globe thanks to the ease of international travel, CDC officials say the outbreak is not a cause for panic in the U.S.

In fact, all suspected SARS cases reported so far involve people that have either:

  • Traveled within 10 days before the start of symptoms to the affected regions of Hong Kong, southern China, Vietnam or Singapore; or
  • Had close, personal contact with an infected individual, such as a family member or healthcare worker.

That means the best thing you can do to reduce your risk of contracting severe acute respiratory syndrome is to avoid travel to Southeast Asia and close contact with people who have recently returned from those affected areas.

Anyone who develops a fever and respiratory symptoms, such as coughing and difficulty breathing, within 10 days of travel to these areas or contact with someone who has should seek medical attention immediately to be checked for SARS.

Although the exact cause of the mysterious pneumonia is not yet known, health officials believe that it can be spread only through close, face-to-face contact with an infected individual.

Researchers are learning more about severe acute respiratory syndrome as the outbreak develops, but CDC director Julie Gerberding, MD, says the fact that most of the cases have been among household contacts or healthcare workers who have had very close and direct contact with infected people or their body fluids suggests that this disease is transmitted from person-to-person by droplets, such as mucus or other body fluids.

"But it's very difficult sometimes to distinguish a droplet, which means you have to be real close, from an aerosol, which can spread in a broader area," says Gerberding.

To be on the safe side, the CDC is recommending that healthcare workers or any other individual wear masks when they are in close contact with patients. According to treatment guidelines, suspected SARS patients are also being kept in isolation.

Gerberding says that there has been a reduction in the spread of severe acute respiratory syndrome in healthcare environments that have followed these precautions, and that's promising news.

SOURCE: CDC. World Health Organization.

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