Travelers Warned About SARS

SARS: The Early Show, Medical correspondent Dr. Emily Senay has the latest news
CBS/The Early Show
The state department is advising some American workers at the embassy in China to return home because of the risks to them from the SARS outbreak in areas of China.

The Early Show medical correspondent Dr. Emily Senay reports the workers are not being ordered to leave, but the government is recommending that nonessential diplomats and their family members leave Beijing until the outbreak of SARS, or Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, is under control.

It is one of many advisories being issued by such groups as the Centers for Disease Control and the World Health Organization.

If you're thinking of traveling to Asia, you should probably postpone the trip unless it's absolutely essential, especially if the destination is China, Hong Kong, Singapore and the Vietnamese capital of Hanoi.

There are no confirmed cases in the United Sates but more than 80 cases are suspected. California has the most cases in the country, 19, and state health officials say they are investigating 12 more. Of those 31 suspected cases, at least 17 traveled to Southeast Asia in recent weeks, and three others share homes with travelers to Asia. No health care workers have been infected so far, state health officials said Wednesday.

On Tuesday, five suspected SARS patients were removed from an American Airlines flight from Tokyo that was quarantined on a San Jose, Calif., tarmac. Later health officials cleared the passengers of the mystery illness.

According to the World Health Organization, at least 78 people worldwide have died from SARS. And the group estimates that about 2300 people are infected with the illness. The highest concentration of the illness is in mainland China, where more than 45 people have died. There have also been deaths in Hong Kong, Singapore and, closer to home, in Canada.

Senay says the average American is not at great risk. Most cases have been in China, she says, and people at highest risk are health care workers caring for SARS patients and family members who may have come in contact with respiratory secretions. If you have recently traveled to an affected country, look out for symptoms to appear seven to 10 days after you return. If you become sick, Dr. Senay recommends you see your doctor at once.

Evidence suggests the disease spreads by close contact, says Dr. Jim Hughes, director of the National Center for Infectious Diseases in Atlanta. He told The Early Show co-anchor Hannah Storm on Monday that it is still too early to tell how close that contact has to be for the disease to spread.

According to the Centers For Disease Control, examples of close contact include "having cared for, lived with, or had direct contact with respiratory secretions and body fluids of people with SARS."

While some SARS cases have been reported in Canada, there's no sign of widespread community spread, so CDC isn't advising against travel to or from there.

Here are some symptoms of SARS:

  • Fever of 100.4 degrees F
  • Cough
  • Shortness of Breath
  • Muscular Stiffness
  • Confusion
  • Travel to Affected Areas
  • Contact With Traveler to Affected Area

You'll notice many of these symptoms are something that you would feel if you had a cold or the flu. The big difference with SARS, says Dr. Senay, is that you would either have traveled to Asia, where the illness is believed to have started, or come in contact with someone who traveled to Asia.

Health alert notices are being given to those traveling to and from Hong Kong and parts of China and Vietnam. Travelers are being told that they may have been exposed to SARS, and what symptoms to look for if they start feeling sick within a week of their trip.

Because the cause of SARS has yet to be confirmed, there is no set treatment for the illness. So what patients are getting is known as supportive care, such as antibiotics or fluids.

Dr. Senay says SARS patients should limit their activities to the home.

She says they should not go to work, school or any public place for at least 10 days. In addition, if they're coughing or sneezing, they should use common-sense precautions, such as covering their mouth with a tissue, and, if possible, they should wear a surgical mask to reduce the possibility of droplet transmission.

In addition, says Dr. Senay, they should use wash hands frequently with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand rub.