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April 10, 2003, Gazette

Medical community ready to deal with SARS
“No need to panic”

Dr. Rick Cooper
Dr. Rick Cooper

There have been no cases of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) in the province, but doctors and health officials are keeping in close contact to ensure procedures are in place to deal with any possible occurrences.

Dr. Rick Cooper, chair of the Discipline of Pediatrics and a specialist in infectious diseases, said there have been inquiries at the Health Sciences Centre about SARS from people with respiratory symptoms, but none fit the suspected definition.

“We don’t encourage people to go to the emergency room directly – we want them to call their physician or the ER and answer questions about where they have traveled and if they have any of the following symptoms – fever, cough, shortness of breath.”

If there are any suspicions, Dr. Cooper said the person inquiring would be given two pieces of advice.

“If you are not sick, it would be best if you stayed in your house until you are well, for up to 10 days. And if you are sick, come into the hospital, giving us your name beforehand so we are expecting you and can isolate you in a room with negative pressure so air does not re-enter the Health Sciences Centre.”

Dr. Cooper said there are about 10 rooms in the HSC with negative pressure. Hospitals outside St. John’s would just use a regular room and examine the patient using contact and respiratory precautions – mask, gown, goggles and hand-washing.

Dr. Cooper spoke to the Gazette April 2 following a teleconference with health officials regarding SARS.

“We meet to make sure everyone is on track and that we are prepared. It could be a passenger on a flight having trouble breathing and the airplane would have to bring the person to St. John’s. The ambulance drivers would wear masks for protection.”

Although SARS is receiving a lot of media attention, Dr. Cooper said there is no need to panic.

“We think that SARS is a close contact respiratory spread, like a cold, and less infectious than influenza, measles or chicken pox.”

Dr. Cooper has volunteered to examine anyone appearing sick with SARS and said he is less worried about doing this using aggressive protection control measures than he would be sitting in an airplane next to someone coughing.

Right now there is no treatment for SARS. Dr. Cooper said antibiotics won’t do any good.

“It looks like SARS is a corona virus – about 10 per cent of colds are caused by corona viruses and this is some kind of animal strain that’s more virulent. There are no anti-viral agents for a cold.”

On April 2 the United Nations health agency issued a travel warning advising against trips to Hong Kong and the Chinese province of Guangdong because of SARS.