Health & Medical Lung Health

WHO Issues SARS Travel Warning

´╗┐WHO Issues SARS Travel Warning April 2, 2003 - The World Health Organization (WHO) now recommends that anyone planning travel to Hong Kong and the Guangdong province of southern China postpone all but essential travel due to the ongoing epidemic of SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome). It's the first time in the international organization's history since 1958 that it has issued a travel restriction for a specific region based on the threat of infectious disease.

"This is the first time that we have recommended that people avoid an area, and this is, of course, because we do not understand the disease completely, because there's no vaccine, and there's no drug," said WHO executive director of communicable diseases David Heymann, MD in a press briefing today.

The new travel restriction is designed to limit further spread of the mysterious respiratory disease that has already affected more than 2,200 people and caused at least 78 deaths worldwide.

Chinese officials today reported that an additional 361 SARS cases and nine deaths occurred in the Guangdong province during March, which indicates the epidemic is still growing in this region. Previously, the Chinese government reported 792 cases and 31 deaths from Nov. 16, 2002 when the outbreak began to Feb. 28, 2003. That brings the total number cases in mainland China as of April 2 to 1,190 cases and 46 deaths.

Heymann also announced that China has now pledged full cooperation and partnership with the WHO, and the organization is sending a five-person team immediately to Guangdong to investigate the outbreak.

WHO officials say the SARS outbreak in Hong Kong has also developed an unusual pattern of transmission, which is different than what is being seen in other areas. Investigators say something in the environment in Hong Kong other than the air seems to be transferring the disease from person to person, such as an object that people are touching and becoming infected from.

Due to the continued and unexplained spread of the mysterious disease in Guangdong and Hong Kong, Heymann says they are now recommending travelers to these regions to consider postponing their travel to another time. SARS outbreaks reported in other regions of the world have since been contained and are not considered to be a threat to the general public.

WHO officials say this travel advice will be reviewed on a daily basis and subject to change. The recommendation applies only to persons entering the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of China and Guangdong Province of China, not to passengers transiting through international airports located within these areas.

For more information on how to protect yourself from SARS, see WebMD's special report on severe acute respiratory syndrome.

SOURCE: World Health Organization briefing, April 2, 2003.



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