ATLANTA -- The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Saturday began distributing cards at airports receiving flights returning directly from Hong Kong warning travelers returning to the United States from Hong Kong and Guangdong Province, People's Republic of China and Hanoi, Vietnam that they may have been exposed to cases of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS).
The cards are being handed out by quarantine officials in Chicago, Los Angeles, New York City, Newark and San Francisco. These airports are the only U.S. airports receiving direct flights from Hong Kong. No U.S. airports receive direct flights from Hanoi or the Guangdong Province. CDC officials expect to expand the distribution of cards to Anchorage, Alaska and the territory of Guam later today.
The travel cards warn those returning from the three areas that they should monitor their health for at least seven days. They are also advised to contact their physicians if they become ill with a fever accompanied by a cough or difficulty in breathing.
The cards also offer guidance designed to assist physicians in making a diagnosis by advising travelers to tell their physicians about recent travel to the affected regions, and whether they have been in contact with individuals who displayed symptoms of SARS.
As of March 15, 2003, the CDC had received reports of SARS cases Hong Kong and Guangdong Province, People's Republic of China; Hanoi, Vietnam and Canada, Singapore and Thailand. For that reason the World Health Organization has issued emergency guidance for travelers and airlines so that persons displaying symptoms of the illness can receive immediate health care and can be brought to the attention of public health authorities. These individuals are also advised against traveling while ill.
The CDC advises physicians and other clinicians to be alert for travelers who:
· Have a fever of 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit or higher;
· One or more symptoms of respiratory illness including cough, shortness of breath, difficulty in breathing, hypoxia (deficiency in the amount of oxygen reaching tissues of the body), X-rays indicating the presence of pneumonia, or respiratory distress; and one or more of the following:
· History of travel to Hong Kong or Guangdong Province, People's Republic of China, or Hanoi, Vietnam within seven days of symptom onset;
· Close contact with persons with respiratory illness having the described travel history. Close contact includes having cared for, lived with, or had direct contact with respiratory secretions and body fluids of a person with SARS.
Additionally, airlines should:
· Alert the destination airport of any passengers meeting the case definition criteria;
· Arriving passengers who are symptomatic should be referred to health authorities for assessment and care;
· Aircraft passengers and crew should be informed of the person's status as a suspect case of SARS;
· The passengers and crew should provide all contact information for how passengers can be reached for the subsequent 14 days to airport health authorities.
CDC advises that persons planning elective or nonessential travel to Hong Kong and Guangdong Province, People's Republic of China and Hanoi, Vietnam may wish to postpone their trips until further notice. Detailed information can be found on CDC's Traveler's Health Web site at http://www.cdc.gov/travel/.