Magazine article UN Chronicle

The Global Response to SARS

Magazine article UN Chronicle

The Global Response to SARS

Article excerpt

The global approach to the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), coordinated by the World Health Organization (WHO), has been aimed at sealing off opportunities for further spread, both within countries reporting cases and internationally. Experiences in a growing number of countries indicate that the disease can be contained, thus supporting the WHO overall objective: to prevent SARS from becoming widely established as another new disease in humans.

In the absence of a vaccine, the most effective way to control a new disease such as SARS is to break the chain of transmission from infected to healthy persons. In almost all documented cases, SARS is spread through close face-to-face contact with infected droplets when a patient sneezes or coughs. Three activities--case detection, patient isolation, and contact tracing--can reduce the number of people exposed to each infectious case of SARS and eventually break the chain of transmission, Detection aims to identify SARS cases as soon after onset of illness as possible and once identified, the next step is to ensure their prompt isolation in a properly equipped facility and management according to strict procedures of infection control. Tracing--the detective work--involves the identification of all close contacts of each case and assurance of their careful follow-up, including daily health checks and possible voluntary home isolation.

Together, these activities limit the daily number of contacts possible for each potentially infectious case. They also work to shorten the amount of time that lapses between onset of the illness and isolation of the patient, thus reducing opportunities for the virus to spread to others. The effectiveness of these measures is reflected in an important indicator of disease transmission--the so-called "effective reproduction number". …

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