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HAGATNA, Guam (Pacific Daily News, April 1) - As the deadly
flu-like disease "severe acute respiratory syndrome" continues to
spread across Asia like wildfire, public health and hospital officials are
working quickly to prepare for a possible outbreak on Guam.

The highly contagious disease, which claimed its 1,550th victim
and 54th death on Sunday, has spread to 13 countries since it was first detected
in China in November. The number of reported cases has increased tenfold over
the last two weeks.

"We're concerned that it is continuing to spread and we
still don't have a test period to identify it," said Robert Haddock,
Department of Public Health and Social Services' territorial epidemiologist.

The disease seems to be spreading by air travel and has largely
infected hospital workers and others directly exposed to the disease.

Guam Memorial Hospital Administrator Bill McMillan said the
hospital is working to be prepared for an outbreak.

"It's a highly communicable infectious disease, so we'll
treat it as such," he said. "The emergency workers are up to speed on
universal precautions, and we have a supply of various medications (that) can be
useful. We have a physical area adjacent to the ER due to open that we're in the
process of converting to an isolation area.... We're ready for it."

Haddock said Public Health is working to inform the public about
the risks of the disease.

"I don't think the public needs to be too concerned unless
they're traveling to the particular areas in southeast Asia," he said.
"We have Public Health employees meeting flights from Taipei and Hong Kong
and giving them information on the disease."

The disease's cause is unknown, and researchers have yet to
develop a conclusive test to diagnose it.

Haddock said if there is an outbreak on Guam, people should take
normal preventive measures.

"They are pretty much the same precautions as those you
would take for the flu: avoid crowds, wash hands frequently, especially before
eating, avoid touching your eyes or nose... Just good personal hygiene."

Guam is at special risk because it's a focal point for travel in
the area, according to Haddock.

"We're especially concerned because we do have direct
flights coming in from Taipei and Hong Kong and all over the region. But those
are the disadvantages of being a hub for southeast Asia," he said.

April 1, 2003

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