Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS): NDSC issues advice to travellers and health professionals following cases of 'severe pneumonia' in Asia and Canada

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The National Disease Surveillance Centre today (Monday) issued advice to travellers and health professionals following the identification of 150 cases of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) - a severe form of pneumonia - in South East Asia and Canada.

The areas where outbreaks have occurred include Hong Kong , the Guangdong province of China, Toronto and Vancouver in Canada, Singapore and Hanoi in Vietnam

"There is a slight possibility that people living in, or visiting Ireland, could have been in contact with the disease, while visiting these countries. The Department of Health and Children and the National Disease Surveillance Centre are providing guidance for healthcare professionals to assist them in identifying and managing suspect cases, and in reducing the likelihood of spread of SARS should it appear in Ireland," said NDSC Director, Dr Darina O'Flanagan.

"Travellers who have been to any of the affected areas need not be unduly concerned. At present, it appears that the risk of illness is very low even in the affected areas. However, if you become ill with flu-like symptoms - such as fever, aching muscles, headache, sore throat, cough and shortness of breath - within 10 days of returning from one of the affected areas, you should contact your doctor.

"At the moment, the only treatment is to ensure that the patient has sufficient fluids and to assist breathing if they are having breathing difficulties. Not enough is known about the cause of SARS at present to be more specific about treatment, but this may change as the results of ongoing investigations become available.

"It is likely that it is spread by direct contact with an ill person or by an ill person sneezing or coughing. Up to now, the majority of cases have occurred in people who have had very close contact with other cases such as family members or healthcare workers looking after patients with SARS. It may take between 3 and 10 days to show symptoms of illness after having been exposed.

"There is international concern that this illness has spread quite quickly.It is also worrying that no cause has yet been found for this illness. As a result, clinicians, hospitals and laboratories have been alerted to look for this condition, especially if there has been a history of travel to the areas affected. Early identification of any cases will mean that the possibility of spread is reduced and that medical care can be started as soon as possible. A national group of experts who will advise the Minister of Health and Children on the situation is being established."