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SARS alert continues

SARS alert continues

NEW cases of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) in some Asian countries means some New Zealanders could still be at risk of contracting the virus, the Ministry of Health says.

"Accordingly, we have decided this morning, in conjunction with the National Pandemic Planning Committee, to maintain our current level of surveillance and preparedness," Ministry spokesman Dr Colin Tukuitonga said.

Dr Tukuitonga, Director of Public Health, said the World Health Organisation was now reporting 386 people with the syndrome, and 11 deaths.

"Most of these cases continue to be in Hong Kong where 222 cases have been reported. Vietnam (63 cases) and Singapore (44 cases) also have a relatively high incidence of SARS cases.

"Because people travelling into New Zealand often come through or from one of these countries we will contine to treat SARS as a threat to the health of New Zealanders, and act accordingly."

Dr Tukuitonga said SARS alerts at international airports were being complemented by information for incoming travellers on all international flights, as well as advice to outgoing travellers. Border protection staff were well-prepared to deal with any suspected cases, and the health sector was equipped to receive people suspected to having SARS. No cases have yet been diagnosed in New Zealand.

"Within the health sector we are continuing to share the latest international advice with public health units, with hospitals and with healthcare workers in primary care. This isn't a one-way street, however. Our health care workers have really risen to the occasion. We are seeing some exellent resources - such as infection control guidelines and admission protocols - which individuals and groups are preparing in various parts of the country and making available to the rest of the sector."

The SARS webpage (www.moh.govt.nz/sars) and free phone (0800 0800 80) will continue to give updated information to New Zealanders seeking advice, Dr Tukuitonga said.

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