|TRENTON – With the spring holiday break approaching, Commissioner of Health and Senior Services Clifton R. Lacy, M.D., today urged New Jersey residents to avoid non-essential travel to certain parts of Asia because of the threat of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS).
“Travel to mainland China, Hong Kong, Singapore and Hanoi, Vietnam, should be avoided unless it is essential, because of the risk of acquiring SARS in these areas,” Dr. Lacy said, re-emphasizing current travel advice from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the U.S. State Department and the World Health Organization (WHO). “The CDC has issued no recommendations against traveling to Canada.’’
To date, 166 suspected SARS cases have been reported nationwide, including three in New Jersey. These three individuals had traveled to Asia, and there have been no reported cases of SARS transmission to people in contact with the three individuals. The WHO is reporting 2,781 cases in 19 countries/jurisdictions, including 111 deaths. There have been no deaths in the United States.
The first reported New Jersey suspect case, a 36-year old North Jersey female, was released from a North Jersey hospital on March 17 and has fully recovered. The second case, a 30-year-old North Jersey woman, was seen by her physician as an outpatient on March 30, was never hospitalized and is home recovering. The most recent New Jersey suspect case, a 36-year-old South Jersey female, was hospitalized in Pennsylvania on March 31 and is in stable condition.
According to the CDC, laboratory testing of blood serum from the first New Jersey case revealed that the 36-year-old woman is one of five suspected cases nationwide who have tested positive for infection with a novel coronavirus. This virus has been implicated as the most likely cause of SARS thus far. The positive laboratory tests are not conclusive evidence that the organism is the cause of SARS. Additional specimens are being tested to learn more about the coronavirus and its link with SARS. The results of the special testing conducted by CDC were reported this week in the publication, Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Reports.
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 with SARS. SARS 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 may show pneumonia and/or other abnormalities. Laboratory tests may show low numbers of white blood cells and platelets. Some cases worldwide, but only one in the United States, have involved respiratory failure requiring mechanical ventilation.
The World Health Organization has recommended that people traveling from certain SARS-affected areas be screened before they board airplanes. Upon arrival in the U.S., travelers receive a travel alert developed by the CDC. The travel alert reminds passengers to monitor their health for at least 10 days, see their health care provider if they get sick, and report their travel history.
Anyone who gets sick while traveling in an area affected by SARS should limit contact with others and avoid further travel. To find a local health care provider, contact the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate.
Suspected or probable SARS cases have been reported to the WHO from the following countries: Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, Taiwan, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Italy, Ireland, Malaysia, Romania, Singapore, Spain, Switzerland, Thailand, the United Kingdom, the United States and Vietnam.
DHSS has held weekly teleconferences with New Jersey hospitals and public health agencies to provide updates, explain how to identify potential cases, and detail appropriate reporting mechanisms. 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 maintains close communication regarding SARS with the CDC and New Jersey’s public health and health care communities.
The DHSS has a fact sheet on SARS available in Chinese and Vietnamese. For more information, visit www.cdc.gov/travel.