No SARS cases reported yet in county

While no cases of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) have yet been diagnosed in Mohave County, local health officials are prepared for when one may surface.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has contacted state health departments with guidelines on the mysterious virus that first appeared in Southeast Asia.

In turn, state health departments have passed that information along to county health departments and hospitals, Carleen Shelton, infection control practitioner at Kingman Regional Medical Center, said.

"The only guidelines from the CDC are for suspected cases," Jennifer McNally, assistant director of the Mohave County Department of Public Health, said.

"They've worked hard on finding what causes (SARS) and they believe it's a coronavirus, a virus that causes typical colds."

Symptoms of SARS include a fever of 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit or greater, aches, chills, dry cough and shortness of breath.

Associated Press stories indicate more than 2,700 people in 18 countries have been infected with the SARS virus.

At least 116 deaths worldwide are linked to it.

Mainland China and Hong Kong are where the highest number of cases has been reported.

But Canada, Singapore, Vietnam, Malaysia and Thailand have also reported fatalities.

The virus is most likely passed through droplets expelled during a cough or sneeze that is inhaled by someone else.

But touching an object, such as a handrail, on which droplets have settled could also infect someone, Shelton said.

As of Friday morning, there were 166 suspected cases of SARS in the United States.

Nine family members and three health workers were infected by someone carrying the virus, the remaining people had all recently traveled in Asia, the AP reported.

A 10-day period of quarantine is imposed on suspected cases of SARS.

"We'll treat it like any respiratory isolation case," Shelton said.

"Our emergency room has a negative pressure room so we can do procedures.

We'll also use standard and other precautions depending on the symptomology of anyone coming in (with what appears to be SARS)."

Shelton said as with any new illness or disease there is a chance it may not be correctly diagnosed on first presentation.

But with all the media attention recently on SARS that is unlikely, she said.

"One key to look at is to what area has the patient recently traveled or have they been in close contact with someone from that area," McNally said.

After putting a suspected SARS case in isolation, the patient is treated based on his or her symptoms, Shelton said.

"We treat shortness of breath with oxygen, aches and pains with something else, and we have something for congestion," Shelton said.

Shelton was asked if people should be more concerned with SARS now than the threat of bioterrorism.

"SARS is just like anything else that has come along," she said.

"When it's new we're really concerned, but at the same time there are tons of other things out there so we can't go into a panic.

"We must have heightened awareness of it, follow CDC guidelines and continue with everyday life."

Anyone wanting the latest information on SARS can find it on the CDC website at www.cdc.gov.