If your job requires travel abroad, you've probably pondered how to avoid SARS. If you are haunted by images of mask-faced airline travelers nervously moving as quickly as they can through the milling crowds, you are not alone.
The good news is that although the outbreak of SARS, or Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, is a potentially fatal illness, medical and international authorities have a good network in place to track its spread and provide up-to-date information and tips to anyone who must go overseas.
Two excellent sources of information are the Centers for Disease Control and the World Health Organization. You can get the latest news about SARS cases, about a particular country's experiences and about how experts recommend you protect yourself.
SARS symptoms include a fever of more than 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit; a doctor finding a respiratory symptom such as cough or shortness of breath; travel within 10 days of the onset of symptoms to an area with community-spread SARS; or close contact with a patient with SARS within the past 10 days.
There is no cure yet for SARS, nor is there a sure vaccine, although researchers are making progress. They have figured out what apparently causes the infection: they have linked it to a previously unknown and particularly strong coronavirus.
SARS is mostly concentrated in a handful of Asian countries, where many multinational corporations do business and send employees on business. The illness has now been tracked backwards to November 2002, when the first case of an atypical pneumonia was reported in southern China. That case is now believed to have been SARS.
Some cases of SARS have also turned up in other countries, thanks to the global nature of commerce and society in general today: An infected person boarding a plane can bring contagious diseases to his destination.
The Centers For Disease Control, or CDC, recommends that you consider postponing nonessential trips to mainland China, Hong Kong and Singapore until further notice. The CDC has issued a travel advisory in those areas, where the possibility of contracting SARS is highest.
The CDC also recommends you take certain precautions if you plan to travel to Taiwan, Toronto (Canada) and Hanoi (Vietnam), areas where the agency has issued a travel alert. Those precautions include:
? Assembling a travel health kit containing basic first aid and medical supplies. Include a thermometer, household disinfectant, a supply of surgical masks and disposable gloves and alcohol-based hand rubs.
? Informing yourself and other who may be traveling with you about SARS.
? Being sure you are current on your vaccinations. See your doctor at least four to six weeks before travel to get any additional shots or information you may need.
? Checking your health insurance plan to see if it covers medical evacuation in case of illness.
? Before you leave, identifying health-care facilities in the country where you will be staying.
Once you are in an area with SARS, you should wash your hands frequently, the CDC advises. Also, avoid close contact with large numbers of people. The use of masks will cut down on how many infectious droplets are exchanged, but they will not completely eliminate the possibility of becoming infected this way, so the CDC does not recommend the routine use of masks while in public places.
The World Health Organization also has guidelines for officials to check travelers for apparent signs of SARS and to quarantine patients.
Before you leave, you should check with both the CDC and the World Health Organization (WHO) to find out if your destination has areas with SARS cases and to find out the latest tips on protecting yourself.
For more information, see:
Interim Guidelines About Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) For Persons Traveling To SARS-Affected Areas
Summary of WHO (World Health Organization) Measures Related To International Travel
General WHO SARS Web Site
General CDC SARS Web Site