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Severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) continues to be reported primarily among people who have travelled to affected areas. A small number of other people have become infected after being in close contact with or having cared for or lived with a SARS patient.

 

Surgical face masks for protection against SARS.

Department of Health

What is the Government's policy on SARS?

At present SARS poses a low risk in this country but the Government continues to take this situation extremely seriously and has taken a number of precautionary measures to stop the spread of this infection in the UK. These build on the well established systems which already exist in this country for dealing with infectious diseases and health emergencies.

We may still see more cases in the UK. The key is to identify them promptly and ensure that there is no onward transmission in this country.

Current evidence is that SARS is spread mainly through close contact with someone who already has the symptoms of SARS. Other routes of transmission appear to be rare.

The Government's strategy for the UK is: to reduce the risk to travellers; to identify suspected patients early; to minimise transmission within the country through appropriate management of suspected cases and scrupulous attention to infection control; to identify close contacts of cases and monitor their health for 10 days after their last exposure. The UK is also contributing to the international effort to control this disease.

  • Early and accurate information has been disseminated to the public and National Health Service. Up to date information and guidance for healthcare professionals and members of the public is available and updated on the WHO, Health Protection Agency (formally the PHLS) and DH websites.

  • A dedicated team has been established at the Health Protection Agency (HPA) Communicable Diseases Surveillance Centre. High quality surveillance systems have been set up to enable the disease to be tracked closely. The HPA quickly established a successful rapid telephone/email reporting system for suspect and probable cases.

  • The Chief Medical Officer has issued advice to people travelling abroad. He strongly advises against travel to specified SARS affected areas in line with WHO guidelines. The guidance is kept up to date on the DH and FCO websites.

  • The WHO has advised health screening for passengers departing from the countries affected by SARS and as a further precaution information has been distributed to the main airports in the UK giving advice to returning travellers.

  • Specific guidelines, in line with WHO advice, have been issued for the management of patients within NHS organisations to reduce the risks of cross-infection.

  • The UK's considerable scientific expertise, in collaboration with the international scientific community, has been put in place to confirm the causative organism and develop accurate diagnostic tests.

On 28th April 2003, the Health Secretary, Alan Milburn, outlined a number of additional measures to manage the risks from SARS. Actions following this include:

1 All Chief Executives of NHS and Primary Care Trusts have been reminded of the action they need to take in their own organisations as a precaution in case of further possible cases presenting to the NHS. This includes advice on health care workers recruited to the NHS from SARS affected areas.

2 Steps are being taken to ensure that exit screening from ports of departure are robust and in accordance with WHO guidelines, by sending UK observers to these areas.

3 Airlines returning passengers from SARS affected areas have been asked to distribute information on SARS in order to inform them about potential signs and symptoms.

4. Airlines have been reminded of their obligation to provide a declaration of health on landing in the UK.

5. The Secretary of State will meet with other Health Ministers at the World Health Assembly in May to discuss any further measures above and beyond those already taken which could be put in place at a European or international level.

The Government's policy on SARS is kept under constant review.