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SARS Cases Soar in China

CDC Offers New Travel Guidelines to Reduce SARS Risk

WebMD Health News

April 21, 2003 -- In a sign that China wants the world to know it's taking the SARS (sudden acute respiratory syndrome) outbreak very seriously, the government today sacked its health minister and the major of Beijing who had initially played down the epidemic. The firings came after a weekend in which Chinese officials acknowledged an additional 448 undisclosed SARS cases, bringing the total number of confirmed cases in China to 1,959 including 86 deaths.

The Chinese government also announced plans to tone down its traditional weeklong May Day holiday to a single day of celebration.

"The purpose of such an act is to prevent the massive movement of people and the possible spread of the disease," says Gao Qiang, an executive health minister, in a news release. The Communist May Day holiday on May 1 traditionally attracts millions of celebrants to travel across China.

An investigative team from the World Health Organization arrived in Shanghai today to investigate the SARS outbreak in that major shipping port where local officials have so far confirmed only two cases of SARS. An earlier report from the WHO raised concerns that health officials in many areas of China may not be prepared to handle SARS and might not be reporting all probable cases of the disease to Beijing authorities.

The WHO has also expressed concern over how the SARS outbreak seems to taking a turn for the worst in Hong Kong. Over the weekend, a record number of SARS patients (12) died in Hong Kong, and officials say these deaths are occurring more frequently in young, previously healthy people.

Local health officials in Hong Kong say a more severe form of SARS has emerged among a cluster of 321 SARS cases that occurred among residents of the Amoy Gardens apartment complex. About 20% of these patients require more intensive medical care compared with the 10% of other SARS patients that have required such care. Two-thirds of the Amoy SARS cases have also developed diarrhea as a symptom of their disease compared with 2% to 7% of cases in other outbreaks.

In response to the continued spread of SARS in Asia, the CDC has updated its travel guidelines to help travelers protect themselves from SARS. Worldwide, 3,861 probable cases of SARS have been reported to the WHO, including 217 deaths.

The CDC and WHO already have issued travel advisories recommending that people postpone all non-essential travel to Hong Kong, mainland China, Singapore, and Hanoi, Vietnam.

If travelers decide to go through with their travel to these areas hardest hit by the SARS epidemic, the CDC advises the following precautions:

  • Assemble a travel health kit containing basic first aid and medical supplies. Be sure to include a thermometer, household disinfectant, a supply of surgical masks, disposable gloves, and alcohol-based hand rubs for hand hygiene.
  • Inform yourself and others who may be traveling with you about SARS.
  • Be sure you are up to date with all your shots, and see your healthcare provider at least four to six weeks before travel to get any additional shots or information you may need.
  • You may wish to check your health insurance plan or get additional insurance that covers medical evacuation in the event of illness.
  • Identify in-country healthcare resources in advance of your trip.

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