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Mexico Guards Against SARS - 2003-05-01

Mexican authorities are taking special steps to prevent an outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, coordinating health monitoring activities on its borders and carrying out special inspections at airports and seaports. Cooperation is seen as the key to managing any problem that might occur.

Mexico has tightened security at both its northern and southern borders, in an effort to prevent the entry of SARS. Officials are trying to examine immigrants passing through Mexico from Central America to the United States and have beefed up checkpoints at the border with Guatemala. In addition, health officials in states bordering the United States are working with counterparts on the other side of the line to share information and track possible cases.

Tamaulipas State Secretary of Health Hector Lopez, says this cross-border communication is critical. He says this system of epidemiological vigilance allows health officials on both sides of the border to be informed and to be in position to issue an alert to the public, if necessary.

Mexican authorities are also stepping up vigilance at ports of entry, with a special emphasis on the 26 daily flights to Mexico that originate in Asia. The Mexican Health Secretariat has issued a travel advisory for Asian countries where SARS has been detected. Tuesday, an additional 20 federal health inspectors went to the Mexico City International Airport to screen passengers arriving on flights from the Far East. Last week, ten Chinese athletic trainers visiting Mexico were kept under observation at a remote training center as a precaution.

The director of the epidemiology section of Mexico's Health Secretariat, Pablo Kuri Morales, says the arrival of SARS in this country is inevitable, given the realities of modern-day travel and commerce. He says reasonable measures can be taken to impede its entry, but that blocking all people or products from Asia would not be reasonable or necessary. He says the World Health Organization has made it clear that ordinary products, such as clothes, that come from Asia do not represent a threat of infection. Experts believe the disease is spread through close contact with people who are infected.

Health officials in Mexico say one of the chief problems they face is that there is no laboratory in the country that can test for SARS. There have been a couple of dozen suspected cases of SARS reported in various parts of Mexico, but all were later diagnosed as some other illness.

Mexico has developed an emergency response plan, just in case SARS is identified. So far, in Latin America, only Brazil has confirmed a case of SARS.