March 27, 2003

Campus Prepares for Mystery Disease Fears

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In response to the recent reports of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), an illness causing atypical pneumonia and acute respiratory conditions, Gannett: Cornell University Health Services has issued several advisories on SARS to help the community remain informed about the illness.

As of yesterday, the World Health Organization (WHO) has documented 487 SARS cases worldwide, including 17 deaths. 45 cases are under investigation in the United States.

SARS, an illness of unknown causes, was first reported in southern China in Guangdong Province as early as last November. In addition to China, WHO has also received reports of SARS cases from Hong Kong, Indonesia, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Vietnam, and Canada.

Kevin Nadolny ’04, who was hired to do research in China this summer, said that he does not plan to change his plans for traveling abroad.

“It’s good to be informed about the illness but to panic about the issue is unnecessary,” he said.

There have been no reported cases affecting anyone within the Cornell community.

“Gannett’s clinical staff members have been trained to screen patients who meet the case definition for SARS and to take precautionary measures as needed to care for the patient,” according to Sharon Dittman, associate director for community relations at Gannett: Cornell University Health Services.

One student with family in Hong Kong expressed his concerns about SARS.

“Its spread throughout Asia poses a threat not only to my family and friends there, but it also appears that the range of the disease can be a threat to America,” sad Vincent Hull ’04.

The main symptoms of SARS are high fever, dry cough and breathing difficulties, according to WHO. Other symptoms may include headache, muscular stiffness, loss of appetite, rash and diarrhea.

WHO reports that “close contact” with an infected person is necessary for the illness to spread. Only hospital workers caring for SARS patients and close family members of patients have been affected so far.

Dittman noted that with flu and allergies in peak season, students should only seek medical evaluation if they have traveled to Asia in the past seven days or have had face-to-face contact with someone who has recently traveled in Asia in addition to having a fever, cough, or difficulty breathing.

“We don’t want everyone who has flu or allergy symptoms to be worried about this rare illness. At the same time, we want to be a resource to the community for both information and health care,” Dittman said.

In the recent weeks, Gannett: Cornell University Health Services has stayed in close contact with the New York State Department of Health and the Tompkins County Health Department. They have also worked with University abroad programs and travel offices to alert students who have been traveling in countries at risk, according to Dittman.

“Some people might have been to Asia during spring break,” Dittman said, noting the large group of travelers in the community and the high traffic between Cornell and countries at risk.

“The speed of international travel creates a risk that cases can rapidly spread around the world,” according to WHO.

The U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued a travel advisory stating that U.S. citizens planning nonessential travel to regions affected by SARS may wish to postpone their trips until further notice. However, WHO “has not recommended restricting travel to any destination in the world” but has warned travelers to be aware of the main symptoms and signs of SARS.

Detailed information about SARS can be found at the CDC’s Traveler’s Health website www.gannett.cornell.eduand

Archived article by Janet Liao