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ALEXANDRIA, Va. -- A survey of infectious disease doctors revealed that more than half are concerned about the capability of their medical facilities to handle patients with severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), although most work at hospitals or medical centers that have outlined plans to focus on treatment of SARS, according to a study in the July 1, 2004 issue of Clinical Infectious Diseases.
More than half of the 865 members of the Infectious Diseases Society of America's Emerging Infections Network responded to the survey, which was conducted in June 2003. Despite the fact that only a third of respondents were at facilities that had dealt with SARS patients, 90 percent are preparing to address the disease through a variety of measures.
Infectious disease doctors' input can facilitate hospitals' preparations, according to Arjun Srinivasan, MD, a researcher at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and lead author of the study.
"I think, increasingly, infectious disease physicians have more and more clout, not only in dealing with SARS, but in all sorts of infectious disease issues," he said. "It's good to be proactive in planning for these situations." Preparing hospitals for dealing with SARS also prepares them for dealing with other infectious respiratory illnesses, such as influenza, pertussis and mycoplasma, Srinivasan added.
Medical centers' perceived level of risk will probably influence the extent of preventive measures taken. Providing masks to emergency room patients with respiratory symptoms can help keep disease from spreading to healthcare workers or other patients. Infection may also be averted through the use of special hospital rooms with negative pressure so that airborne diseases can't escape. Quarantining and monitoring patients and healthcare workers who have visited SARS-stricken areas is another possibility.
An accompanying editorial by Allison McGeer, MSc, MD, of the University of Toronto, suggests that medical facilities should design efficient systems of updating hospital staff, patients, and visitors during an outbreak. McGeer also recommends clearly specifying the responsibilities of policy-making agencies beforehand, so that when SARS strikes, no time is lost in making administrative decisions.
SARS and other respiratory infections need only take "a short plane ride" to make the leap across an ocean, said Srinivasan. "Healthcare facilities in this country are recognizing that the world is a very small place."
Source: Infectious Diseases Society of America