Written Answers. - Infectious Diseases.

Liz O'Donnell


334 Ms O'Donnell asked the Minister for Health and Children the steps, if any, his Department and agencies have taken to protect Irish people from SARS; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [10995/03]

Severe acute respiratory syndrome is an acute respiratory illness of unknown origin which was first recognised in south-east Asia in February. Owing to the serious nature of the infection, its high mortality rate and its spread to a number of different countries, it was declared a threat to international health by the director general of the World Health Organisation in March.

The symptoms of SARS include high temperature, more than 38ºC, and dry cough and-or shortness of breath and-or difficulty breathing. This is relevant only to people who have been in the affected areas and-or have had, during the ten days prior to onset of symptoms, close contact with a person who is a suspect or probable case of SARS.
In mid-March I established an expert group to monitor the situation as it developed and to provide advice in relation to the measures required to deal with this syndrome. This group meets regularly and continues to monitor the situation.
The national disease surveillance centre and my Department have developed protocols and guidance for hospitals and health professionals which describes the syndrome and provides advice on how suspect cases should be managed. Information for the public and healthcare workers, as well as guidance for aircraft cabin and aircraft cleaning staff, has also been provided.
My Department has advised individuals not to undertake non-essential or elective travel to SARS affected areas including: parts of China, Beijing, Guangdong, Shanxi and Taiwan province; Hong Kong special administrative region of China; Singapore; Hanoi, Vietnam; and Toronto, Canada.
This advice follows the serious public health threat identified by authorities in areas affected by SARS and the stringent disease control measures now being employed as a result. People travelling to and-or from affected areas should be aware of the symptoms of the disease and seek medical advice should they become unwell during their trip or within ten days of leaving the area. The above list of affected areas may change at this outbreak evolves.
The Infectious Disease Regulations 1981 have been amended in order to designate SARS as a notifiable infectious disease.
At present one probable case of SARS in a person who recently returned from south-east Asia and who had shown symptoms similar to those of the disease is being investigated in Ireland. The patient concerned has made a full recovery.
Question No. 335 answered with Question No. 283.