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New Zealand reports probable SARS case

New Zealand reports probable SARS case

A HAWKE'S Bay woman who fits the international criteria for Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome is to be the first New Zealand case reported to the World Health Organisation, the Ministry of Health says.

"This case was discussed by the SARS technical advisory group at a meeting this morning," Director of Public Health Dr Colin Tukuitonga said today.

"The consensus is that she fits the criteria and so will be notified to WHO as a probable SARS case."

Dr Tukuitonga said the announcement should not cause alarm.

"We can actually take a great deal of reassurance from the way the case has been handled to date. The risk to other people has been minimal, because both the patient and all the health professionals involved have been scrupulous in their attention to infection control."

The woman, who had been part of a tour to China, was sufficiently knowledgeable about SARS and concerned about the risks to stay away from other people when she returned to New Zealand. When she became unwell two days later she telephoned her General Practitioner, who in turn telephoned Hawke's Bay Hospital.

"Within 20 minutes of her phone call to the GP she was in contact with the hospital. On arrival she was met in an isolation room by clinicians who were appropriately protected with hats, goggles, masks, gowns, gloves and overshoes. After an initial assessment she was admitted for treatment - again in isolation from other patients.

"At the same time the local medical officer of health was notified, and activated the public health part of the response. Every attempt has been made either by the Hawke's Bay medical officer of health or her counterparts in other district health boards to contact other members of the tour party."

Dr Tukuitonga said the woman was well enough not to require intensive care. She had been discharged this week but continued to stay secluded from other people.

"The system has worked extremely well and I commend all those involved - including a very aware and motivated patient."

Dr Tukuitonga said Hawke's Bay District Health Board SARS response team was this afternoon advising staff of the probable SARS diagnosis. Public health staff were advising other tour group members and reiterating the need to be vigilant for symptoms and what to do if they arose. However given that the group had now been back in the country for 10 days - the internationally accepted incubation period for SARS - the chance of more cases among this group was slight.

"We've always known that sooner or later we would probably have to deal with SARS in this country. We have benefitted from having the time to learn from other countries' experience, and get systems and processes in place for dealing with it."

Dr Tukuitonga said there had been several well-publicised incidents in which people have been investigated in hospitals for SARS. At the end of the day none met the current criteria for reporting to WHO.

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