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Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome - update

Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome - update

NEW Zealand's preparedness and response to the World Health Organisation's global alert on SARS is going well, the Ministry of Health says.

Dr Colin Tukuitonga, Director of Public Health, says the latest available health advice has gone to all public health units and hospital departments, as well as to General Practitioners.

Air New Zealand and airport authorities have instituted precautions, travel agents are being given advice on what to tell intending travellers and an 0800 number has been set up for members of the public seeking advice.

"Most of the queries we are receiving, or hearing about, relate to people's travel plans," Dr Tukuitonga said today.

"Many of them are from people with stopovers in Asian centres such as Bangkok or Hong Kong, concerned about their risks of contracting SARS if they do so. Others are unsure about whether they should be travelling in planes at all."

"Our advice to outgoing travellers remains the same: If you are planning non-essential travel to any of the worst-affected countries you may like to reconsider.

"However it is important to note that information coming from international agencies such as the World Health Organisation is that most of those contracting SARS in countries like Vietnam and China are health care workers. All the evidence to date is that whatever the organism causing this condition is, it is not spread by casual contact.

"What clinicians are being told to look for in diagnosing SARS, in addition to the symptoms already described, is a history of travel to China, including Hong Kong, Vietnam, Singapore and Taiwan within the previous 10 days and/or close contact with persons with respiratory illness having the above travel history.

"Close contact includes having cared for, lived with or had direct contact with respiratory secretions and body fluids of a person with SARS."

The other symptoms are fever (>38 degrees C) AND one or more signs or symptoms of respiratory illness including cough, shortness of breath or difficulty in breathing.

Dr Tukuitonga said there had been no cases of SARS notified in New Zealand. A man claiming to have the condition who presented himself at Gisborne airport this morning had been thoroughly checked, but did not fit the profile of the disease.

"This is the time of year when we would expect to be seeing cases of influenza and influenza-like illnesses which resemble SARS. Inevitably there will be some false alarms,but better sure than sorry," Dr Tukuitonga said.

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