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States brace for outbreak as mysterious disease attacks people worldwide. (On First Reading).

The frenzied preparations states made after the 2001 anthrax outbreaks may be a boon in battling a contagious and mysterious infectious disease, severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), that has been killing people around the world.

SARS has spread primarily in Southeast Asia (China, Singapore, Vietnam and Thailand), but also has drifted into the United States and Canada.

The World Health Organization reports at press time that worldwide more than 7,296 people have come down with the disease, and the death toll has hit 526. The cause of SARS is not known, but is thought to be a member of the coronavirus family, which includes the virus attributed to the common cold.

The area hardest hit has been Hong Kong with 1,674 cases. Some 212 people have died, and hospitals were bracing for more. U.S. businesses there have temporarily closed to disinfect their offices, and many people are routinely wearing surgical masks in public.

Nationally, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued a travel advisory for those visiting mainland China, Hong Kong, Singapore and Hanoi. The CDC conducted SARS teleconferences for state health departments to keep them apprised of developing trends in the epidemic.

To date, 64 confirmed cases of SARS have been identified in 30 states in the United States. Ontario, Canada, has issued quarantine orders for people with symptoms arriving from Southeast Asian nations. Canada has reported 145 cases.

State public health departments have worked to limit the burden of potential local outbreaks. States with quarantine stations in their airports passed out brochures on SARS symptoms to passengers arriving from Southeast Asia and examined those who appeared ill.

State health departments issued advisory letters. Through the Health Alert Network, agencies informed clinicians of the symptoms to help diagnosis and told them how to report suspected cases. State public health Web sites also carry information on SARS.
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Publication:State Legislatures
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 1, 2003
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