ATLANTA -- In response to reports of increasing numbers of cases of an atypical pneumonia that the World Health Organization (WHO) has called Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) today announced several steps to alert US health authorities at local and state levels.
CDC activated its emergency operations center on Friday, March 14, upon learning of several cases reported in Canada among travelers recently returned from Southeast Asia and their family members. The federal public health agency:
· Issued a health alert to hospitals and clinicians on Saturday, March 15.
· Briefed state health officials on Saturday, March 15.
· Is investigating illness among travelers who may have passed through the United States after having potential exposure to the virus.
· Is preparing health alert cards to give to travelers returning from Southeast Asia.
· Is preparing guidance to assist public health departments, health care facilities and clinicians in monitoring and identifying potential cases.
· Deployed eight CDC scientists to assist the WHO in the global investigation.
· Is analyzing specimens to identify a cause for the illness.
The CDC has been working with WHO since late February to investigate and confirm outbreaks of this severe form of pneumonia in Viet Nam, Hong Kong, and parts of China. No cases have been identified to date in the United States.
"The emergence of two clusters of this illness on the North American continent indicates the potential for travelers who have been in the affected areas of Southeast Asia to have been exposed to this serious syndrome," said Dr. Julie L. Gerberding, CDC director. "The World Health Organization has been leading a global effort, in which CDC is participating, to understand the cause of this illness and how to prevent its spread. We do know that it may progress rapidly and can be fatal. Therefore, we are instituting measures aimed at identifying potential cases among travelers returning to the United States and protecting the people with whom they may come into contact."
WHO issued a global alert about the outbreak on March 12, cautioning that the severe respiratory illness may spread to hospital staff. No link has been made between this illness and any known influenza, including the "bird flu" outbreak reported in Hong Kong on February 19.