By Katie Worth

HAGATNA, Guam (Pacific Daily News, July 9) - Public Health officials are breathing a sigh of relief now that SARS seems to be under control worldwide, and a travel warning for Taiwan has been lifted, but said they will stay vigilant against a possible comeback of the mysterious and sometimes deadly disease.

Severe acute respiratory syndrome first showed up in China this winter, and soon spread across the globe. According to the World Health Organization's Web site, there were 8,439 probable SARS cases reported globally since November, 812 of which resulted in death. The last probable case was reported June 27 in Canada.

In a press release, PeterJohn Camacho, director of the Department of Public Health and Social Services, said that agency will continue to meet flights from countries that have been affected by the disease, as well as communicate with local physicians and actively educate the public.

"Definitely we're going to continue to keep the public aware and vigilant, especially for infectious or communicable types of disease, because we want to make sure our guard is never really let down," Camacho said. "Our staff have been really working hard and so it frees up their time to do some of the other things that still need to be done."

Dr. Robert Haddock, Public Health's territorial epidemiologist, said the department will keep its fingers crossed that SARS doesn't return.

"Some people are afraid that next winter it may show up again, just like flu seems to come and go every year," he said.

Public Health's Medical Director Dr. Paula Brinkley said the SARS virus seems to thrive in cool weather and would spread more easily in the winter because people spend more time indoors.

The press release said that the department will engage in an intensive influenza vaccination this fall to minimize diagnostic confusion if SARS does re-emerge.

The Taipei Economic and Cultural Office in Guam held a press conference yesterday to discuss Taiwan's removal from the WHO list of areas with local transmission of the disease.

There were 674 probable SARS cases and 84 deaths reported in Taiwan, which was the last area removed from the list. The WHO Web site said the last reported probable case in Taiwan was June 15, and they removed the country from the list after two 10-day SARS incubation periods passed without new cases.

James Chin, director general of the office, said the Taiwanese government hopes exchanges between Taiwan and Guam will return to normal now that the SARS epidemic has ended.

Haddock said there is a positive outcome from all the SARS preparations taken on island.

"I guess it's a learning experience for everybody, and I guess you could say that it's good practice for other emergencies, in case we do have some other kind of outbreak -- all this drilling we went through will probably be good practice," he said.

Camacho also sees a bright side to the scare.

"I'm proud of the collaboration and the partnership that evolved and developed as a result of our focus on keeping Guam SARS-free," he said. "There have been a few challenges but I think we've risen to those challenges."

July 9, 2003

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