|CDC director updates Berkeley crowd on SARS
BERKELEY, Calif. (AP)
- The director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was supposed to speak here Tuesday night about how prepared the national health system is for another terrorist attack.|
Instead, Dr. Julie Gerberding's talk was dominated by severe acute respiratory syndrome, the contagious disease that has spread from Asia to the United States and elsewhere.
Gerberding told the audience at the University of California, Berkeley that for the first time, a U.S. medical worker caring for a suspected SARS patient has likely come down with the disease.
She did not disclose where the stricken health care worker lives -- only that the patient was added to the list of suspected cases over the weekend.
``We're confident it will turn out to be a true case,'' Gerberding said.
Health care workers were among the early victims as the disease began to spread in Asia. Two health care workers in Hawaii who fell ill after caring for a woman with pneumonia were among the first suspected American victims. But their illnesses were relatively mild and health officials have doubted the cases will end up being related to the outbreak.
The fact that SARS trumped even homeland security shows just how consuming the illness has become for the CDC, which is receiving a record number of phone calls from members of the public asking for answers public health officials often don't yet have.
Before she flew to California on Tuesday, Gerberding told a Senate panel that the volume of daily SARS-related calls can exceed 1,500 -- more than the CDC received even at the peak of the fall 2001 anthrax attacks.
Most of Gerberding's talk surveyed what health officials know about SARS, which as of Monday had infected 2,600 people worldwide. There are 148 suspected cases in the United States.
She told the audience that about 4 percent of those who contract SARS die -- a lower mortality rate than CDC officials first thought.
``Most people do seem to recover,'' she said.
Earlier Tuesday, Gerberding told the Senate appropriations health subcommittee that officials are working aggressively with airlines to determine appropriate procedures if a suspected SARS patient is on board a flight, including what protections are needed for workers on the plane and how the plane might be decontaminated.
She also said:
--The CDC is forming a communications team to make sure the agency is doing a good job communicating with the Asian community on SARS. Still, she said, they want to be sensitive to bias, because this is not a disease of Asians but a disease of people who have been in the part of the world where SARS is spreading.
--CDC has three potentially useful tests to diagnose the virus, which CDC suspects is a new form of the coronavirus, which causes the common cold.
She said the U.S. cases, on average, may be less serious than those in other parts of the world because the CDC is using a very broad case definition in hopes of capturing all real cases. Someone doesn't have to have severe pneumonia to be listed as suspect SARS here, she said.
--While the health system in the United States ``has risen to the occasion,'' other nations may not be responding as well to SARS.
``It's going to be very difficult to contain it'' as it spreads across the globe, she said.
I was watching a scientist on TV last night who is on the front lines trying to find more about SARS. He said that the people who need to worry the most are the healthcare workers who come in contact with the infected cases. Even though the healthcare workers in Asia used the usual precautions when dealing with an infectious disease such as masks and gloves, they still became infected. This is a worrying to those who are investigating why SARS is being so quickly spread.