Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, or SARS, has made its way to the U.S. where there are currently 208 suspected cases.
Although there have been no cases identified in Arizona, Payson Regional Medical Center has announced it is taking precautions in the event that SARS does become a threat.
"We don't anticipate any immediate threat from SARS," PRMC CEO Chris Wolf said, "but we feel it is in the community's best interest for us to take additional precautionary measures until more is known about the illness."
SARS symptoms include shortness of breath, difficulty breathing, fever, dry cough. If these symptoms coincide with travel to China, Hong Kong, Singapore, Vietnam, or Toronto, Canada, or having contact with someone who has traveled to those areas, there is reason for concern.
Health experts believe SARS is spread through close contact with an infected person.
The incubation period, or length of time between exposure and the onset of symptoms, is estimated to range from two to seven days.
The cause of the disease, which has affected 3,400 people worldwide, is still unknown. Scientists believe it may be related to the corona virus, the same virus that causes the common cold.
PRMC has instituted some basic precautions should someone show up with similar symptoms.
Patients presenting SARS-like symptoms will be asked by hospital staff to wear a face mask until a diagnosis is made. Hospital workers involved in treatment of the patient also will wear face masks.
"Healthcare workers have been especially vulnerable to the disease, particularly if they had close contact with sick people before recommended infection control precautions were put into use," Wolf said. "We want to take every measure to ensure the safety and health of our employees and medical staff, as well as our patients and community."
Dee Pedersen, director of infection control and education at PRMC, elaborated: "We have put in a screening process, with signage in the registration area. It asks if they have traveled or been with someone who has traveled to the countries listed and if they have a cough or flu-like symptoms. If they answer ‘yes,' they are given the mask to wear and taken immediately to an area where a nurse can follow up with them.
"If it was someone who truly met the case definition for SARS, they would immediately be isolated in a negative pressure room, where the air vents to the outside, much the same way as we isolate for a T.B. patient," Pedersen said. "The virus is disbursed and diluted so as to eliminate the risk of further infection."
For more information on SARS, visit the Centers for Disease Control website at www.cdc.gov, or the World Health Organization website at www.who.int.