Volume 96, Issue 97
Wednesday, April 2, 2003

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London takes SARS precautions

By Shawn MacPherson
Gazette Staff

Governments, hospitals, numerous other institutions and individual citizens are reacting promptly to the outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, as cases of the virus continue to crop up around the globe.

According to Graham Pollett, medical officer of health for the Middlesex-London Health Unit, the Ontario government and local hospitals are taking steps to try and prevent the spread of SARS, which has already killed six Toronto residents.

"A provincial co-ordinating centre has been put in place," Pollett said. The centre has recommended that all hospitals in Ontario post signs detailing the symptoms of SARS, while instructing patients with these symptoms to report to reception, he added.

The symptoms of the disease include a fever over 38 C and respiratory symptoms, such as a cough, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, Pollett explained.

People who have recently traveled to Vietnam, China or Singapore, or anyone who has had contact with travellers should report to a hospital if they develop symptoms, he added. The cause of the illness is still unknown, but it is spread through person to person contact, Pollett said.

"[SARS] is a matter which we have to take seriously," said Bhagirath Singh, scientific director of the Canadian Institute of Health Research and a professor in the department of microbiology and immunology at Western.

"We have to be careful," Singh said, adding everyone should consider themselves at risk since because SARS is spread through human contact.

"As of this morning, all three hospitals in London have begun restricting visits," Singh said, adding this is one of the measures hospitals are taking to prevent the spread of the contagious disease.

"We are expanding our SARS containment strategy and tightening control over hospitals and long-term care facilities [across the province]," said James Young, commissioner of public security, in a press release from the Ontario Ministry of Health.

The measures include restricting access to some visitors and necessary staff, the cancellation of non-urgent transfers between health care facilities and experts from Health Canada being available to assist with infection control measures, Young said. In addition, Toronto's Emergency Operations Centre has been activated to assist local and provincial efforts, he added.

"We also ask Ontario residents to recognize emergency departments are heavily burdened right now, and to please use them responsibly," Young said.

As of Mar. 29, there were approximately 100 probable and suspect cases of SARS across the province, the Ministry confirmed.

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2002 THE GAZETTE