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15 May 2003

U.S. Disease Agency Drops All SARS-Related Travel Alerts for Vietnam

(Alerts likely to be removed for Singapore, Toronto soon) (530)
By Charlene Porter
Washington File Staff Writer


Washington -- The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
(CDC) announced May 15 that it is removing a travel alert for Hanoi,
Vietnam, lowering its warning to travelers about the occurrence of
severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) in the city. The CDC action
comes because more than 30 days have passed since the last case of the
sometimes-fatal, flu-like illness occurred, indicating that community
transmission of the disease has ended.


CDC first issued its strongest warning -- a travel advisory -- for
Vietnam in March, suggesting that all but nonessential travel be
postponed. The Atlanta-based disease agency lowered the cautionary
message to an alert on April 29, making travelers aware of the
occurrence of SARS in the area, and suggesting that visits be avoided
to health care settings where transmission had been reported. The
removal of that warning with the May 15 action further recognizes
Vietnam's place as the first nation to contain a SARS outbreak, a
viral disease first recognized by medical science just this year.

"What this really means is that there's no ongoing transmission in
Vietnam," said CDC Director Julie Gerberding at an Atlanta briefing.
"What we have in place now are travel alerts for Toronto, Canada,
which may soon go off the alert list as well, and Singapore, which is
equally on track for coming off the alert list."

CDC travel advisories remain in place for China, Taiwan and Hong Kong.

Also this week, CDC issued guidance to U.S.-based universities and
businesses to carry on with plans for international gatherings and
activities without concern about travelers from SARS-affected areas.

"We feel that not only is the international community stepping up to
the plate to prevent exportation of SARS to other countries, but our
system here of travel alerts and advisories seems to be working,"
Gerberding said. "We've had only one probable case of SARS diagnosed
in the United States in the last 15 days (and that) suggests that
system is working the way we intended it to," she said.

CDC also released May 15 preliminary results of research conducted
with Canadian health officials into transmission of SARS among a
cluster of health care workers in a Toronto hospital. Although the
health care workers were using "state of the art" procedures in
protecting themselves while working with a seriously ill SARS patient,
they were still infected. Gerberding said analysis of the situation
demonstrated that the patient must have spewed infectious droplets
into the air when suffering an especially difficult coughing bout. She
said the case underscores that health care workers must be constantly
vigilant when in contact with SARS patients.

The United States has 64 probable cases of SARS currently, according
to the CDC count. None of those patients has developed the serious
pneumonia that has killed about 8 percent of the patients worldwide.
CDC is still working to understand why the U.S. cases have been milder
than those suffered elsewhere.

The World Health Organization reported 7,699 cases of SARS on May 15
with 598 deaths.

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