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Dr. Susan Allan on Possibility of SARS in U.S. - 2003-04-09


VOA-TV’s David Borgida spoke with Dr. Susan Allan, the Health Director for Arlington County, Virginia. Dr. Allan appeared on the program “NewsLine” to discuss the recent SARS epidemic and addresses the possibility of the spread of SARS in the United States.

MR. BORGIDA
Joining us now Dr. Susan Allan, an expert on this issue. She is the Health Director in nearby Arlington, Virginia.

Dr. Allan, thanks for joining us. This is obviously a very tough issue to deal with. How would you assess international understanding and cooperation of this disease at the moment?

DR. ALLAN
The international community has pulled together in a remarkable way, absolutely unprecedented. Some people have noted that what may have taken us years before to pull together as information, even within a single country, let alone across multiple countries, we now have within weeks and months.

MR. BORGIDA
How do you explain that? Why do you think that's happening? Better communications? More a will to do that, or what?

DR. ALLAN
That and certainly there is a higher level of vigilance in general. We have to admit that. We are all looking for strange new diseases. In this case, it appears to be a natural disease, but the same systems that we would put together to look for any risk could catch something like this earlier. The communications of being able to send photographs of a chest x-ray from Hong Kong to the doctors in my community, so they can see what this patient's x-ray looked like, that's a phenomenal advance for our doctors to be prepared and know when it's not SARS, which is just as important as knowing when it is SARS.

MR. BORGIDA
What is the average person to do about this? How are they supposed to behave, react? Give us some sense of the preparedness level for anybody anywhere.

DR. ALLAN
It's still pretty clear that the way you get SARS is by being close to someone who has SARS. So, for most of us, SARS has not been found in most of the communities in the world, certainly most of the communities of the United States. People who are taking care of other sick people, if you are a physician, a nurse, a family member taking care of someone, you should use the rules you always should use for infection control. Sick people should not be coughing in your face. Washing hands is really important. So, for most of us, it's remembering how we protect ourselves against any disease.

For people who might be traveling, there is the extra issue of travel to the countries where there is more community-based spread of SARS. People are being advised, if they have a choice, postpone traveling to those countries. If you don't have to go now, wait until we know what's going on and it's safer.

If you've gone to one of those countries and you're coming back from them, watch your own health for about 10 days. And if you start getting sick, if you've been to Mainland China or you've been to Singapore or you've been to Vietnam, and then you start developing a fever or a fever with a cough, go see your doctor right away.

MR. BORGIDA
How is the United States preparing for all this, from a Federal standpoint? And then we'll get into what communities like Arlington are doing. But let's begin first with how the United States is doing.

DR. ALLAN
The Centers for Disease Control is very active in working with the World Health Organization in providing support, laboratory support, epidemiologists, teams that are going to other countries to help with the investigation, and helping share the data across the world. They are also taking a strong role to make sure that that information gets down to the State level, to the local level, so that I have it, so the doctors in our community have it.

As people come back into the country, if they are coming on a flight or on a ship from a place that's at risk for SARS, they are giving information to all of the people on that airplane, on that ship, about what the risks are and what they should watch for, how to take care of themselves for the next week.

MR. BORGIDA
And specifically your community, for example, how are you getting the word out and what are you telling people in Arlington, Virginia?

DR. ALLAN
We're doing the best we can to reach all of the doctors, which is one part. As I said earlier, it's just as important to put people's minds at ease and to let them know that we don't have an active case of SARS in our community, that they can reassure people, that they can give people simple information. We're also trying to help the community understand where it's safer to travel, what to watch for, and remind them that the common sense things that they know, like wash your hands, like see a doctor if you're sick, actually provide a lot of protection.

MR. BORGIDA
Well, this is a reassuring conversation, at least for me, and hopefully for our viewers as well. Dr. Susan Allan, the Health Director in nearby Arlington, Virginia, thanks so much for joining us. We appreciate it.

DR. ALLAN
Thank you.

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