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New Disease Spreads Alarm

By FRED DODSWORTH Special to the Planet
Tuesday April 01, 2003

On Saturday the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in Atlanta, Ga., held a rare weekend press conference to address growing global concern regarding Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, better known as SARS. 

“We are very concerned about the spread of this virus,” CDC Director Dr. Julie Gerberding said. “It is a respiratory virus. It does appear to be transmitted very efficiently, and what we know about respiratory viruses suggests that the potential for infecting large numbers of people is very great. We may be in the very early stages of what could be a much larger problem.” 

As of March 31, there were 69 suspected cases under investigation across America, 14 cases in California, and two in Alameda County. According to the Alameda County Public Health Department, there are five reported possible cases in our community. 

Dr. Thomas Aragon, executive director of UC Berkeley’s Center for Infectious Disease Preparedness, is concerned.  

“Because there is intense travel between the Bay Area and Asia, there are multiple options to introduce SARS into this population and there is great opportunity for this disease to spread.”  

While there have been no SARS-related deaths in the United States, four Canadians have died from SARS and the current global mortality rate appears to be as high as four percent.  

World Health Organization (WHO) and CDC officials suggest that SARS transmits itself primarily through large respiratory droplets.  

When a person coughs or sneezes they expel large airborne droplets that can carry the disease and contaminate surfaces all around them.  

It’s believed the virus, which has been identified as a corona-virus similar to the common cold, can survive for three hours outside the body.  

“If you touch the patient or any of the surfaces that have been contaminated, and then touch your mucous membranes you can transmit the disease,” Aragon said.  

He continued, “We want to be aggressive in educating people, especially heath care providers, on how to avoid becoming infected. If we can delay the infection rate we may be able to get a better handle on how to treat this. We want to delay the infection rate because it is going to spread everywhere.”