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Saskatoon, April 3 “ For people with respiratory infections such as pneumonia, tuberculosis, or flu, and people with lung diseases such as COPD (emphysema or chronic bronchitis) or cystic fibrosis, who tend to be very susceptible to respiratory infections, Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) may be a greater threat.  The current working hypothesis is that SARS may be a viral infection (coronavirus and paramyxovirus are under investigation).  If it is spread through the air, similar to the way in which tuberculosis (TB) is spread, the first site of contact would be the lungs.  People who already have lung disease or have an immune system that is weak or compromised would be less able to withstand an attack from an airborne infection.

Asthma, on the other hand, does not usually pre-dispose one to acquiring a respiratory infection.  Although the inflammation of the airways of the lungs, which is the underlying cause of asthma, may be due to an inappropriate response of the immune system, having asthma does not mean that one has a weak immune system.

People with all types of lung diseases, including asthma, are more vulnerable to respiratory infections.  Respiratory infections generally worsen their respiratory symptoms and make breathing even more difficult.  In addition to fighting SARS, which causes pneumonia-like problems for the lungs, the body must also cope with already weakened lungs.

What can people with lung disease do to protect themselves?  The Lung Association offers advice and support at its offices throughout the country and through its website at

For people with asthma, first and foremost it is important to ensure that their asthma is well controlled, says Jan Haffner, Vice President of Health Initiatives for the Lung Association of Saskatchewan.  Ms. Haffner is one of the founders of the Lung Association's AsthmaTrec©

Program for training health educators in asthma, and is a Certified Asthma Educator.  If you are using your ˜rescue' medication such as salbutamol (usually in a blue inhaler) more than three times a week, then your asthma may not be under optimal control, says Ms. Haffner. Information on asthma control as defined by the Canadian Asthma Consensus Report can be found on our website at or by calling our provincial asthma help line at 1-800-667-LUNG.

It is always advisable to have good hygiene habits to avoid the spread of infection.  Frequent hand washing with lots of soap and water will prevent the acquisition of other types of infections that may weaken the body and make one more susceptible to new infections such as SARS.

It is also important to keep the body healthy with proper nutrition.  People with chronic lung diseases such as COPD (emphysema and chronic bronchitis) may need to address their eating habits to ensure that they are getting proper nutrition, says Karen Davis, a Saskatoon Dietitian and volunteer for the Lung Association.  Even people with asthma who have food allergies can get the nutrition they need from a well-balanced diet.  This is specifically addressed in a section of the Lung Association website at

There is some suspicion that the spread of SARS may have an airborne component in which case there may be some similarities to the spread of tuberculosis.  If so, it may be expected that transmission could occur with close or familial-type contact, breathing the same indoor air as a person infected with SARS.  Our experience with TB suggests that while transmission of TB through casual contact has been documented, such occurrences are rare, says Brian Graham, Canadian Lung Association Vice President for Tuberculosis.  However, until we know for sure, it is better to be safe than sorry.  Any type of potential contact with SARS should be avoided.  Even though the question of airborne transmission is unknown, protective measures should be followed.

Masks can be effective in prevention of airborne infection.  A germ or virus that is microscopic in size will usually be attached to a water droplet when it is exhaled from an infected person.  This droplet, a relatively large particle, can be trapped by a facemask.  It is important to note that although a surgical-type mask will trap these droplets and the germ or virus attached to it, a facemask does not offer absolute protection.

The Lung Association commends the work of public health agencies across Canada to contain the SARS outbreak.  Many people are working very hard, some at high personal risk, to prevent further spread of SARS, says Bob Ferguson, Volunteer Chair of the Lung Association of Saskatchewan.  On behalf of the Lung Association, I would like to express our thanks for their work and dedication.

In summary, people with lung disease do need to be more concerned than others about the potential effects of SARS.  If the symptoms of SARS occur, particularly a fever of 38ºC or higher AND increased respiratory symptoms such as cough, shortness of breath and/or difficulty breathing, it is important to seek medical attention immediately.  For travelers to a SARS infected area within the last 10 days, Health Canada also advises seeking medical attention if you have been in contact with a SARS-affected person in the last 10 days OR you have visited a health facility that has been identified by public health officials as being affected by SARS.

In the meantime, the Lung Association recommends keeping your lungs as health as possible.  Ensure that asthma is under control and avoid those substances that trigger your asthma.  Ensure that all respiratory medications are being taken properly.  As always, it is very important for lung health that you don't smoke and don't breathe any second hand smoke.  Practise good hygiene and good nutrition.  Follow the Health Canada recommendations for travel restrictions and avoid contact with any suspected SARS cases.

The Lung Association is Canada's oldest health charity, helping Canadians to breathe easier since 1900.  With the generous support of the public through donations to campaigns such as Christmas Seals, the Lung Association is able to provide a wealth of resources and programs to the public in addition to its support of medical research.  Please visit our Canadian website at or call 1-877-566-LUNG.

When you can't breathe, nothing else matters!

For more information contact:

Brian L. Graham, President and CEO
Lung Association of Saskatchewan
1231 8th Street E, Saskatoon, SK S7H 0S5
tel:  (306) 343-9640, ext. 222    fax:  (306) 343-7007

Jan Haffner, Vice President “ Health Initiatives
Lung Association of Saskatchewan
tel:  (306) 343-9640, ext. 223    fax:  (306)  343-7007




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