St. Louise guards against SARS

With cases of a mysterious and deadly respiratory disease
present in Santa Clara County, St. Louise Regional Hospital is
urging visitors to use face masks under certain circumstances at
the facility as part of its preparations and precautions.
GILROY – With cases of a mysterious and deadly respiratory disease present in Santa Clara County, St. Louise Regional Hospital is urging visitors to use face masks under certain circumstances at the facility as part of its preparations and precautions.

The hospital has developed a policy to better locate and isolate patients infected with severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, a new and mysterious illness that has puzzled doctors and been blamed for at least 78 deaths and more than 2,200 illnesses worldwide.

“We are taking extra precautions,” said hospital spokeswoman Vivian Smith. “We always like to be prepared, and we always take precautions. Since this is something that has transpired and shown up in Santa Clara County we want to continue to take our usual – and extra – precautions.”

The hospital has posted signs for patients and visitors urging them to wear masks if they have a cough and to report to health officials if they show symptoms of SARS.

“In order to protect all staff, patients and visitors during this flu season, we are asking if you have a cough to please wear a mask,” the sign reads. “Notify hospital staff if you (have) a cough so a mask can be provided to you.

“If you have also recently traveled to Asia, have a cough and a fever we ask that you report this immediately to a staff member.”

The request for masks is not unprecedented, Smith said. The hospital has also requested them during other times with particularly high incidences of respiratory illness.

While Smith said the hospital has not seen a suspect case, if it does officials will isolate the individual and report the matter to the county’s Public Health Department.

So far at least seven Santa Clara County residents have been hit with what officials suspect is SARS.

Health officials have not released the names or hometowns of the afflicted, but most either recently traveled to Asia – where the disease is most prevalent – or were in contact with people who did.

At least 32 California residents from Orange County to San Francisco are suspected of having the disease.

Little is known about the still-spreading illness and health officials are trying to stem any potential panic.

“We want to contain overreaction as much as we want to enhance rapid response,” said Martin Cetron, deputy director of the federal Centers For Disease Control’s quarantine division.

SARS symptoms are similar to many other illnesses. They include fatigue, a temperature of more than 100.5 degrees, coughing, difficulty breathing and an abnormal chest X-ray.

The illness is suspected only in people who have traveled in the last 10 days to a country where SARS has been reported or who have been in close contact with someone who has it. So far, those locations include Hong Kong, China, Hanoi, Vietnam or Singapore.

“Close contact” includes having cared for, lived with such a person or having come into direct contact with their respiratory secretions or body fluids, according to the county’s Public Health Department.

Surprisingly, St. Louise has not received increased calls from citizens concerned about the disease, Smith said.

“There’s so much information out there, and we tend to think that’s why,” she said.

On the Net: www.cdc.gov

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