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Health agency: SARS pandemic can be avoided

Official says he doubts disease will be wiped out

A man and woman wear masks while waiting for a train in Beijing.
A man and woman wear masks while waiting for a train in Beijing.

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China's government is shutting public facilities in Beijing in an attempt to stop the spread of SARS.
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SARS FACTS

Suspect case: A person who develops high fever (greater than 38 C / 100.4 F) and respiratory symptoms such as cough, breathing difficulty or shortness of breath, within 10 days of

1) having had close contact with a person who is a suspect or probable case of SARS.
or
2) having traveled to or resided in an affected area.

Probable case:  A suspect case with chest X-ray findings of pneumonia or respiratory distress syndrome.

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- U.S. health officials said Sunday that it is possible to keep SARS from spreading throughout the world but that it is unlikely the disease will be eradicated.

"If we do the kind of common-sense public health measures we know work, we ought to be able to stop it from being a global pandemic," Dr. Julie Gerberding, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said on CBS's "Face the Nation."

That doesn't mean the worst is over.

"I don't have a crystal ball, but I'd say the most likely scenario right now is we'll see it spread," Gerberding said.

Containing cases of severe acute respiratory syndrome is made more difficult by the fact that many countries "don't have the infrastructure" to do so, she said.

"Our best bet, right now, is to keep it from getting there in the first place," she said about the virus, which proves fatal in about 6 percent of cases and does not respond to known treatments.

In the United States, where 41 probable cases had been tallied by Friday, "we need to concentrate efforts in health care facilities and the traveling arena, not generically throughout the general public," Gerberding said.

The situation abroad is far different. Internationally, the outbreak "is not under control right now," Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said on ABC's "This Week."

"I think we'd have to assume we're going to have to be living with this, hopefully not in an escalating fashion," he said. Although eradicating SARS is his goal, "I'm a bit skeptical as to whether we're going to be able to achieve that," he said.

The origin of the coronavirus that causes the respiratory disease is murky. A number of coronaviruses can infect humans and certain animal species, Fauci said.

"If indeed it did jump from an animal to a human, it has achieved the capability of rapidly spreading from human to human, which is the worst possible scenario."

Still, he said, there is no indication that infection rates are rising in the United States. "We were fortunate enough to be just ahead of the curve," and able to put in place measures to stop it from crossing into the country.

"We've still got to take it very seriously, and be very vigorous, because it does have the potential of getting out of control," Fauci said.

That is more the case in China, where the disease was recognized in November and had infected 2,753 people as of Saturday, killing 122 of them, according to the World Health Organization.

Masks 'not the way to prevent' SARS

Gerberding said face masks would give most people little protection.

"There is a role for masks here, but not really for the person on the street. The place where masks come into play is, first of all, for the patient -- to wear a mask so they don't spread droplets into the environment."

Masks are also useful for health care workers and household contacts of SARS patients, she said, but routine use by the general public is "just not the way to prevent the spread of illness. And yet people feel the need to do something."

Despite a WHO advisory last week that all but essential travel to Toronto, Ontario, be delayed until the outbreak there has abated, Gerberding said she was planning to visit the city "next week" and considered it safe.

The CDC has urged Toronto visitors only to stay away from hospitals and other places where SARS patients are.

The WHO's worldwide figures released Saturday identified 4,836 cases of the disease, with 293 deaths.


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