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Trenton, NJ 08625-0360

For Release:
March 17, 2003

Clifton R. Lacy, M.D.

For Further Information Contact:
Donna Leusner
(609) 984-7160

Statement by Commissioner Clifton R. Lacy, M.D. on Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS)


New Jersey’s public health agencies, health care organizations and the Department of Health and Senior Services (DHSS) are actively monitoring an outbreak of atypical pneumonia that has, in the past week, infected 170 people in Asia and Canada and resulted in nine deaths.

There are no known or suspected cases in New Jersey, and our public and private health care infrastructure is engaged in surveillance and prepared to identify and treat potential cases.

The World Health Organization (WHO), which is investigating the spread of the disease, issued a health alert over the weekend declaring the illness “a worldwide health threat.’’ As of this afternoon the syndrome has been positively identified in Canada and six Asian countries: China, Indonesia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam. Recent news reports include suspected cases in England, France, Slovenia, Switzerland and Australia.

On Saturday, March 15, DHSS received a health alert from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and immediately transmitted information to hospitals and public health agencies explaining how to identify potential cases and denoting appropriate reporting mechanisms. All health officials in New Jersey have been instructed to immediately report any suspected cases by telephone to both DHSS and local health officials. The DHSS will then communicate with the CDC.

Today, state epidemiologist Dr. Eddy Bresnitz, DHSS senior staff and I conducted a series of conference calls with hospital and public health officials to review the available information and answer questions.

There are two known cases of infected individuals who have traveled in the United States. A doctor who treated a patient in Singapore was in New York briefly last week, and a woman who contracted the disease in Canada traveled from Canada to Georgia and back prior to diagnosis. New Jersey is a hub for international travel and commerce. DHSS has responded by activating its public health surveillance network and communicating with public health and health care entities in New Jersey.

Health workers were informed that SARS is highly contagious, and 90 percent of those infected worldwide are health care personnel who came in contact with SARS patients. Any patient who meets the case definition should be managed with the appropriate infection control methods as outlined by the CDC as outlined on the web site below. Conventional methods of treating the illness appear to be ineffective, and the best response is to isolate the patient, treat the symptoms and minimize contact with other people.

Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) is a form of atypical pneumonia occurring in a person who has traveled to a country with an outbreak or come in contact with a person infected with the syndrome. SARS, the cause of which has not yet been identified, begins as an influenza-like illness, with such symptoms as rapid onset of high fever, muscle aches, headache, sore throat, dry cough and shortness of breath. X-rays show pneumonia and/or respiratory distress syndrome. Laboratory tests show low numbers of white blood cells and platelets. Many affected individuals have experienced respiratory failure requiring mechanical ventilation.

WHO has urged all travelers to be aware of the symptoms associated with SARS. CDC has developed travel alerts for individuals entering the United States. DHSS will maintain close communication with the CDC and New Jersey’s public health and health care communities.

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