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SARS situation improving for New Zealand


SARS situation improving for New Zealand

THE LATEST international information and advice suggest that the threat posed by Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome may not be as grim as first feared, the Ministry of Health says.

"However we are maintaining our vigilance, and still treating this as a potentially serious threat to the health of New Zealanders," Director of Public Health Dr Colin Tukuitonga said today.

"The World Health Organisation's view is now that SARS is 'contained outside of Asia','' Dr Tukuitonga said. "We are also narrowing in on the virus which we think causes it. Overall we are in a much better position than at the beginning of the week."

"Containment outside Asia means basically that good border protection and good infection control procedures in hospitals are preventing the spread of the virus.

"It's worth stressing in this regard that even within Asia most of those diagnosed with SARS are frontline health workers, or family members of those with the condition. For those New Zealanders still concerned I cannot over-emphasise that the risk of infection from casual contact is minimal.

"In New Zealand we still have no diagnosed cases."

"What we have had is very good evidence that the systems we have in place are working. Information went very quickly to airlines, to border control authorities and to regional public health services and hospitals who are the first point of contact with the health system in situations like these.

"People who might have had SARS have been picked up, or have self-reported. They have been assessed and diagnosed appropriately and the healthcare workers involved have been vigilant in their adherence to infection control standards."

Dr Tuikuitonga said preliminary identification of a paramyxovirus as the most likely cause of SARS was very welcome news.

"Although the identification is not yet confirmed it comes from credible laboratory sources in two countries, and has been supported by WHO. We are now in a much better position to develop diagnostic tests, and the prospects for developing drugs to combat it are much enhanced."

Latest reports to the WHO total 264 suspected or probable cases from 10 Countries (Canada, China, Germany, Singapore, Slovenia, Spain, UK, USA and Viet Nam). Hong Kong, Hanoi and Singapore continue to be the most affected areas.

Dr Tukuitonga said the National Pandemic Planning Committee, which has been co-ordinating the New Zealand response to SARS, will meet again tomorrow to review the situation.

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