The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) notes that severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) is an emerging, sometimes fatal, respiratory illness. While the first identified cases occurred in China late last year, the disease has now spread throughout the world.
Although SARS is believed to be caused by a virus, the specific agent has not been identified, and there is not yet any laboratory or other test that can definitively identify cases. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has defined a suspect case of SARS as an illness of unknown cause since February 1, 2003, which meets the following criteria:
- fever of at least 100.5 degrees F; and
- one or more clinical findings of respiratory illness, such as cough, shortness of breath, difficulty breathing, hypoxia, or x-ray evidence of either pneumonia or acute respiratory distress syndrome; and
- the onset of symptoms occurs within 10 days of either (1) travel to an area with documented or suspected community transmission of SARS; or (2) close contact with either a person with a respiratory illness who traveled to a SARS area or a known suspect SARS case.
“Close contact” means having cared for, lived with, or had direct contact with respiratory secretions and/or body fluids, according to the CDC (see Updated Interim U.S. Case Definition of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) ).
OSHA cautions that all employees with potential occupational exposure to SARS should be trained on the hazards associated with that exposure and on the protocols in place in their facilities to isolate and report cases and to reduce exposures. Additionally, as with other infectious illnesses, CDC notes that one of the most important and appropriate preventive practices is careful and frequent hand hygiene, using either soap and water or waterless alcohol-based hand sanitizers.
The CDC has advised that people planning nonessential travel to mainland China, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Hanoi, Vietnam, may wish to postpone their trips, but the agency has not issued a travel advisory for Canada.