Saskatoon, March 19th, 2003 - The Lung Association is closely watching reports concerning Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) in Canada and around the world.
While Canadians are being urged by federal health officials not to panic, many are seeking information on SARS on the internet. The Lung Association is experiencing a sharp increase in numbers of visitors to its web site. On March 13 when the SARS story broke, www.lung.ca had more than 227,000 page views compared to the 22,000 page views on average days.
Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome or SARS is characterized by fever higher than 38.0 degrees Celsius and respiratory symptoms such as shortness of breath and coughing, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). In some cases the respiratory illness progresses to severe respiratory difficulty and death. Although the illness resembles a severe case of flu and is unlikely to be due to a bacterial infection, no definitive cause has yet been identified. As with other respiratory illnesses, the Lung Association highly recommends that a doctor is consulted for proper diagnosis and treatment if these symptoms are evident.
The agent responsible for this infection has not yet been identified despite extensive investigations by qualified laboratories. "This may be a new infectious agent," says Dr. Ronald Grossman, spokesperson for the Canadian Thoracic Society of the Lung Association.
Recent findings obtained from SARS patients in Germany revealed particles resembling paramyxoiruses were seen in throat swabs and sputum samples. Others are trying to confirm this observation. Grossman suggests that these preliminary results only indicate a suspicion that paramyxovirus is involved. Even if the presence of a paramyxovirus were confirmed, it is not clear at this stage whether this virus might be the cause of SARS or rather a coincidental finding.
So far there have been two distinct clusters of cases - an individual or family in B.C. and one set of cases involving a family in Toronto. The Canadian total of probable and suspected cases is now eleven.
The risk of transmission appears to be low except for close contacts of infected individuals. "Travel to parts of the world where the disease has been recognized is not being restricted as of this moment," says Dr. Grossman.
Canadian, provincial and local health officials are working together to enhance surveillance and look for additional cases, including those arriving on flights from Asia. Health Canada is working with both the WHO and CDA officials to co-ordinate the response.
Health Canada has initiated the following activities:
- In collaboration with the provinces, territories, and local health units, Health Canada has begun enhanced surveillance for the recognition of SARS cases.
- In addition, officials at Pearson & Vancouver International Airports have been contacted to activate protocols to track potentially infected passengers. Health Canada staff have been sent to those airports to assist in the management of these passengers.
- As well, Health Canada is working towards distributing Health Alert Notices to international passengers arriving in or returning directly to Canada from Hong Kong. These cards will advise passengers of the occurrence of SARS and how to recognize symptoms; they include a fever over 38.0 degrees Celsius AND one or more of the following respiratory symptoms: cough, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing.
- Samples from Ontario and B.C. have been sent to Health Canada's National Microbiology Laboratory (NML) in Winnipeg to conduct tests in an effort to determine the cause of the pneumonia-like cases. As results become available, the NML will convey the results to the attending physicians.
Jan Neumann, Vice President of Professional Education
Lung Association of Saskatchewan
tel: (306) 343-9511 fax: (306) 343-7007