Suspected Sars victim treated in Essex

HEALTH chiefs moved to reassure people last night after confirming a man thought to be suffering from the killer Sars virus had been treated in an Essex hospital.

HEALTH chiefs moved to reassure people last night after confirming a man thought to be suffering from the killer Sars virus had been treated in an Essex hospital.

The latest suspected victim of the deadly Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome virus was taken to an isolation unit at Broomfield Hospital, Chelmsford, on Saturday after flying back to the UK from Taiwan a week earlier.

Doctors at Broomfield assessed the man – who cannot be named for reasons of patient confidentiality – after he developed severe flu-like symptoms.

The UK's fifth suspected Sars patient was later admitted to Addenbrooke's Hospital in Cambridge, where he was said to be in a stable condition.

In a joint statement, the Health Protection Agency and Department of Health said yesterday: "Other people who were in close contact with him in the UK are being monitored in case they develop any symptoms, but there is no evidence of this so far."

Last night, hospitals, universities and airports reassured people proper precautions and procedures were in place.

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Commenting on the latest victim, a spokeswoman for Mid-Essex Hospitals NHS Trust which runs Broomfield Hospital, said: "Infection controls were followed and no other individual is thought to have been at risk of contracting any infection from the patient."

A spokesman for Essex Rivers NHS Trust said staff at Colchester General Hospital were prepared.

He said: "We have been given very comprehensive information by the Sir Liam Donaldson, the Government's Chief Medical Officer, and that has been cascaded right through our organisation.

"As soon as we have a suspicion someone is infected by Sars, they will be isolated. We are as ready as we can be."

The University of Essex, which has a high proportion of foreign students - some of whom will soon be returning to lectures after Easter breaks in Asia - has sent all its staff and students an email explaining key facts and precautions about the virus.

A spokesman for Stansted Airport, meanwhile, said he was not aware of any extra precautions that had been implemented, but that normal infection control procedures would be followed.

So far, there have been more than 2,500 suspected cases of Sars worldwide, with a concentration of 800 in Hong Kong. In total, 100 people have died from the disease, which has a fatality rate of one in 25. Doctors are still unsure of the cause. Treatment is by antibiotics or anti-viral medicines, although it is as yet unclear how effective these may be.

In Britain, all five suspected cases, including three in London and one in Manchester, were said to be in a stable condition.

The World Health Organisation has advised against all travel to Hong Kong and the Guangdong Province of China, where the virus first emerged and where the majority of the cases have occurred.

There has been no evidence of transmission of Sars between people in this country. The WHO has indicated that new guidance would be issued should this occur.

Dr Kate King, public health protection specialist with the Health Protection Agency, based in Cambridgeshire, said there was currently no major cause for alarm as most countries where cases had arisen had been able to prevent an outbreak by taking "isolationary precautions".

She said: "I am confident our response should keep everything under control. There is no reason why the public in this country should be afraid of anyone or anything coming from the Far East."

She added, however, that air travel was a major consideration in preventing the spread of disease.

"We can't just think about what is happening in the counties around us we now have to consider our links with the whole world," she said.

Dr Maria Zambon, Director of the Respiratory Virus Unit at the Public Health Laboratory Service, said Sars may be a new virus about which very little is known.

She added: "We are working in collaboration with many laboratories worldwide to try to identify this organism and as new information comes to light it will help us to concentrate our testing efforts more effectively."

Travellers from a Sars infected area who develop high fever, aches, dry cough and shortness of breath within 10 days of arriving in the UK are being advised to stay at home and telephone NHS Direct on 0845 4647 for immediate medical advice.

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