Health Issues

Q. Are health workers provided with information on how to manage SARS?

Answer
Guidelines are in place for health care workers to assess a person with symptoms common to SARS. The guidelines for GPs can be found on the www.health.gov.au/sars/saragp.htm

Q. Can I get SARS through airconditioning in hotels or other places?

Answer
There is no evidence that SARS spreads through airconditioning systems.

Q. Can SARS be treated with antibiotics or other drugs?

Answer
People with suspected SARS will be treated with medications that are effective against the diseases that cause similar symptoms. At this stage there is no specific treatment for SARS itself, other than good health care in hospital for severe cases

Q. Can SARS kill?

Answer
The mortality rate of SARS is believed to be less than 5% of people known to be infected. Quickly identifying symptoms and using general medical management and hospitalisation has kept the death rate low.

Q. Could this be the next flu pandemic?

Answer
No. SARS is different from flu.

How can I best protect myself from SARS?

Answer
In most situations you will not be at any risk of SARS. If you see someone who is obviously unwell and is coughing, step away and avoid physical contact.

How is SARS spread?

Answer
Droplets from infected cases as a result of coughing carry the virus to close contacts. They can also contaminate objects for a short period of time. However, contact with the eyes or mouth as a mode of spread can be avoided by good personal hygiene, such as using liquid soap for hand-washing and disposable towels for drying hands

If I did get SARS overseas how would I be managed?

Answer
People who are ill enough to be hospitalised are being placed in infection control wards. Good supportive health care is all that most people require, with treatment for fever and pains and additional oxygen to make breathing easier. Nurses or doctors caring for them, along with all visitors would wear masks, gloves and gowns. This can distress some ill people but it is important to realise that it is just a precaution. Australians being treated overseas would have access to consular assistance and advice from Australian health authorities if required. If you are not sick enough to be in hospital, you may be asked to stay at home for a period of time and avoid contact with others.

If I feel mildly unwell during an overseas trip, can I travel home?

Answer
If you are unwell you may be asked at the airport to delay your flight home. If you develop a cough while you are in transit you should expect to be asked to wear a mask. Depending on your symptoms you may be required to meet health staff when you arrive at the destination airport.

If I were exposed to SARS, how long would it take for me to become sick?

Answer
Most cases have become unwell between 2 and 7 days after exposure to a person ill with SARS, in some cases this has been up to 10 days.

Is SARS a quarantinable illness in Australia?

Answer
SARS was declared a quarantinable disease under the Commonwealth Quarantine Act on Monday 6th April 2003. For more information, see Quarantine and Travel Health on the Commonwealth Health Department’s Website.

Is SARS common?

Answer
No. Other causes of infection in the respiratory tract are far more common than SARS. Most people who have a cough and fever will not have SARS but will have another common viral illness.

Is SARS influenza?

Answer
No. SARS is caused by a different virus. Influenza is much more contagious than SARS. Influenza vaccines do not protect against SARS. However, people who are recommended to have annual flu vaccinations should do so. Those travelling overseas should also consider being vaccinated, as it will be important to prevent as much influenza as possible and to reduce the number of people who, on developing flu, might be initially considered to have SARS. This would also reduce the pressure on hospitals to manage patients with influenza at a time when SARS cases may occur and hospital beds are needed.

Is it safe to use public swimming pools?

Answer
There is no evidence that SARS can be transmitted through swimming. The same precautions for close contact with a person who is coughing should be taken in pool areas.

What are the symptoms of SARS?

Answer
People with SARS have a high fever (over 38 degrees Celsius), feel short of breath and have a dry cough. With the fever people may have a bad headache, are confused, feel generally sick and have body aches and pains. Sneezing does not appear to be a common symptom of SARS.

What if I can’t move away from someone who is sick?

Answer
If you are in a position where you cannot move away you can protect yourself by covering your mouth and nose with a tissue or cloth, avoid letting your own fingers come into contact with your eyes or mouth and washing your hands very well and frequently. Use a disposable towel for drying hands. If you do not have access to a tap, use an alcohol wipe to clean your hands. If you have access to a face-mask, you should wear it.

What information is provided to travellers?

Answer
Both incoming and outgoing travellers are receiving health alert cards about the spread, symptoms and contact details for further advice. Look for these at Australian Customs.

What is Australia’s travel advice?

Answer
While the risk of contracting SARS is very low and, to date, almost all known cases have been contracted through close personal contact with a seriously ill person, it is recommended that Australians consider deferring, until further notice, non-essential travel to China, Hong Kong SAR, Singapore, Viet Nam and Toronto in Canada. However, if people decide to visit these regions, precautions should be taken. Some simple preventative measures include carrying alcohol-based handwipes, using tissues or handkerchiefs to cover one’s nose or mouth if next to a visibly unwell person and to ensure frequent handwashing. More detailed travel advice is available on the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade website at www.dfat.gov.au

What is SARS?

Answer
SARS is a serious illness, probably caused by a new virus of animal origin. It spreads from person to person, but only to people who are in close contact with an infected person who is unwell. We anticipate that diagnostic tests will be developed for the virus soon.

What is happening at Australia’s borders?

Answer
All flights and ships arriving in Australia need to report whether any person on board is ill. This will help ensure that the adequate medical action is taken upon arrival. Health Professionals are also available at all Australian international airports to provide medical advice and support to border authorities dealing with potential cases of SARS.

What is my risk of getting SARS?

Answer
The risk of getting SARS while traveling overseas is very low. SARS has almost exclusively been transmitted from cases to close contacts such as family, close friends or someone who has cared for them during their illness.

What should I do if I have any of these symptoms?

Answer
First don’t be overly concerned, many people get respiratory infections every day and the probability that your symptoms are SARS is very low. However, you should identify where the closest medical facility is to you. If you have a fever, or feel alternately hot and cold you should seek advice by phoning your local doctor and informing them of any recent travel history. Remember that it is probably not SARS.

Sign up for updates