Local Public Health Officials Develop Framework to Combat SARS

CHICAGO -- Public health officials from many of the nation's largest metropolitan areas today wrapped up a two-day meeting that addressed local response plans for severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS). Convened by the National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO), the meeting featured more than 40 experts from metropolitan areas whose populations already have been greatly affected by concerns about SARS. Participants identified logistical, clinical and policy challenges posed by the disease and developed a framework geared for use by large metropolitan areas in controlling and preventing the spread of SARS.

The experts explored a full array of issues that large cities must address to prepare their communities for SARS, including disease tracking, quarantine and isolation, surge capacity in the public health and medical care systems, and timely, accurate public education.

"The threat of SARS has greatly concerned the public health community since February," said Patrick Lenihan, PhD, president of NACCHO and deputy commissioner for planning and development with the city of Chicago Public Health Department. "Large city local public health agencies recognize that they are on the front lines in responding to SARS and are stepping up to this responsibility. We are leaning heavily on prior bioterrorism preparedness planning, but SARS presents its own unique challenges because, without a vaccine or treatment, early detection, isolation and quarantine are the principal means now available to contain it. We are finding once again, as we have learned from outbreaks of anthrax and West Nile Virus, that the key to protecting our cities is a robust, flexible public health system at the local level."

The timing of this national dialogue is critical because the SARS threat continues and infectious disease experts believe that it could increase this winter. SARS and other emerging infectious diseases pose numerous long-term threats to the U.S. and other countries. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 8,000 people have been infected worldwide and 745 have died. For up-to-date information on SARS, visit http://www.cdc.gov/ncidod/sars/.

NACCHO is the national organization representing local public health agencies. NACCHO works to support efforts that protect and improve the health of all people and all communities by promoting national policy, developing resources and programs, seeking health equity and supporting effective local public health practice and systems.

Source: National Association of County and City Health Officials