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06 May 2003

CDC Lowers SARS Travel Warnings for Singapore, Vietnam

(Decision comes in response to effective disease control measures)
(530)
By Charlene Porter
Washington File Staff Writer


Washington -- The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
(CDC) is downgrading its travel advisories for Vietnam and Singapore,
finding that these Asian nations have successfully contained their
outbreaks of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS).

An advisory is a CDC recommendation that travelers should avoid all
but essential trips to a destination. An alert provides travelers with
information about a health concern in a given place, and suggests some
precautions be taken.

CDC Director Julie Gerberding announced at a press briefing May 6 that
the advisory to avoid nonessential travel to Singapore is being
lowered to alert status. The U.S. health agency also issued a press
release May 5 downgrading its advisory about travel to Vietnam. That
action followed a World Health Organization (WHO) finding April 28
that Vietnam was the first nation to contain its outbreak. Quick
action by Vietnamese health officials is credited for preventing the
spread of the viral-caused illness beyond 63 patients.

In both countries, the CDC decision is based on a couple of factors.
No new cases have been reported in more than 20 days, a period that is
considered twice the length of the normal incubation period for the
coronavirus that causes the sometimes-fatal SARS. Also, CDC experts
have determined that the cases have been confined to certain
households or settings without an unexplained transmission rampant
through the population. Further, they have found that local health
officials have put in place adequate surveillance to stop further
transmission and contain the outbreak.

The CDC is still advising travelers who do go to Singapore and Vietnam
to avoid health care settings that have been hotspots for SARS
transmission in the nations where the disease has been most virulent.

Gerberding said the CDC's strongest SARS travel warning is now in
place only for mainland China, Hong Kong and Taiwan.

At the May 6 briefing, Gerberding said that while the signs of SARS
containment in some areas is good news, the continued transmission in
other areas is "sobering." She said Chinese health officials are
working to "aggressively control" the disease and she remains
optimistic that the measures will be effective.

Gerberding also attempted to quell any alarm about recent reports
indicating that the coronavirus can exist on hard surfaces for 24
hours or more. These findings have raised some concerns that
transmission could occur through a common touch on a doorknob, an
elevator button or a subway strap. Gerberding said that the longevity
of the virus is occurring in "artificial situations," and while these
experiments must be conducted, she said they don't necessarily provide
definitive information about how the disease moves through
populations.

Gerberding recalled a similar period of experimentation two decades
ago when medical researchers discovered that live HIV virus would
survive on surfaces for certain periods of time.

"That occasionally did yield (live) virus, but we also know that
tabletops were not at all important in the transmission of HIV from
one person to another." She said CDC officials remain confident that
face-to-face transmission is still the most likely means of SARS
transmission.

(The Washington File is a product of the Office of International
Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site:
http://usinfo.state.gov)