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New Zealand on alert for mystery illness

New Zealand on alert for mystery illness

HEALTH OFFICIALS around the country have been alerted to the symptoms of a pneumonia-like illness which has sparked a global alert from the World Health Organisation, killed nine people and infected more than 150 worldwide.

At the same time the Ministry of Health is urging all New Zealanders, especially those who have recently travelled in Asia, to familiarise themselves with the symptoms and to see a doctor urgently if they believe they are experiencing them.

Cases of the illness have been reported in China, including Hong Kong, Vietnam, Singapore and Taiwan. Those affected in other countries have recently travelled in Asia. The WHO is calling the illness a worldwide health threat.

In New Zealand the Ministry yesterday advised health officials at all centres with international airports of the case definition - a list of symptoms - drawn up by the World Health Organisation as the illness, known as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) spreads.

Medical Officers of Health and District Health Boards have also been alerted, Air New Zealand has been contacted, and information will be shared with other health groups and organisations today, spokesman Dr Douglas Lush said.

"As yet nobody has identified the organism causing the syndrome. However in the interim we are taking a precautionary approach and urge all New Zealanders, especially those who have recently travelled in any of the affected countries, to be aware of the symptoms and to see a doctor if they have any doubts about their health."

"At the same time we are ensuring all doctors and nurses know as much about the illness as possible. We will continue to update both health professionals and New Zealanders as more information comes to hand.

"Those contemplating non-essential travel to the worst-affected countries might wish to rethink their plans."

Dr Lush said the main symptoms and signs of this form of Severe Acute Repiratory Syndrome include: high fever (>38 degrees 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

"Although no cases have been reported in New Zealand we live in an age of international air travel and we have to assume that the illness can make its way here via an infected traveller, or someone who has recently been in contact with an infected person."

"We do have a national public health emergency plan, in anticipation of a situation like this. We are continually monitoring the information we are getting and will activate that plan if and when the situation necessitates it."

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