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Should SARS scare you? And do people with HIV have more trouble fighting this new virus? (Health).

Severe acute respiratory syndrome is raging through parts of Asia and in Toronto, with about 4,400 people diagnosed with the disease and 250 deaths reported as of late April. But there have been only about 40 "probable" cases, as health officials call them, in the United States--none of which has been fatal. Health experts are optimistic that Americans will continue to largely escape the outbreak. Nevertheless, there are worries--if not yet any proof--that people with AIDS might have more trouble than others with fighting this new virus.

Luc Montagnier, head of the Paris-based World Foundation for AIDS Research and Prevention and a codiscoverer of the AIDS virus, was the first to sound the alarm about HIV-SARS coinfection. "SARS ... does not kill lots of people--around 4% to 5% [of those infected]," he told reporters in Tokyo on April 21. "But if the immune system is depressed by AIDS, the toll would be much higher." Underscoring Montagnier's point, Chinese AIDS officials warned in late April that the SARS death rate could rise to at least 40% in villages with large numbers of HIV-positive people.

But health experts in the United States are cautious about expressing too much concern about coinfection. Beverly Hills AIDS doctor Gary Cohan says only people with low T-cell counts are likely to be at increased risk for developing SARS, which causes serious pneumonia-like complications. People responding well to antiretroviral medications should fare no differently than their HIV-negative peers, Cohan added.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention officials are offering the same SARS prevention tips to HIV-positive people that they recommend to the public at large, said spokeswoman Karen Hunter. Elective travel to SARS hot spots--Hong Kong and other parts of China, Singapore, and the city of Hanoi, Vietnam--should be postponed indefinitely. Visitors to Toronto should avoid settings where SARS is likely to be transmitted, such as medical centers caring for SARS patients. Also, because the recently identified SARS virus can be passed along somewhat like common cold pathogens, Hunter advised, "Wash your hands often, just like Mom told you."
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Publication:The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)
Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:May 27, 2003
Previous Article:Rants & raves.
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