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Reno Hospital Prepared to Deal With Potential SARS Outbreak

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RENO -- The growing concern over Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome has prompted hospitals nationwide to plan for the sometimes deadly illness.

In Reno, Saint Mary's Hospital has made some adjustments to address local concern for SARS.

So far, no SARS deaths have been reported in the United States, and here in northern Nevada, only one suspected case of SARS is under investigation by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Still, there's concern and, in some cases, panic over the disease, that has prompted St. Mary's Regional Medical Center to establish a SARS hotline.

Twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, registered nurses staff the phones at the St. Mary's Helpline. Now, they have a special hotline dedicated to SARS.

"People are worried; they're nervous," says St. Mary's Telehealth Services manager Louise Malone. "It's in the news all the time."

Mostly, people want to know what symptoms to look out for -- nurses say fever over 100.4 degrees, a dry cough and fatigue are among the tell-tale signs of SARS.

"Most everyone's not panicked," says registered nurse Sally Bowens. "They just want information."

A majority of the time, the information puts people at ease. But if the nurses deems anyone a likely SARS patient, they would coordinate the response with the hospital emergency room.

In addition to the call center, St. Mary's also has the ability to transform a number of its ordinary hospital rooms into isolation rooms for SARS patients. By changing an air filter, hospital staff can create negative air pressure that would keep potentially deadly germs from escaping the room.

St. Mary's has also stocked up on special masks with HEPA filters. Designed to prevent any airborne illness from spreading, the masks work for both SARS and bioterror threats.

The precautions are in place, nurses say, to prevent panic and ensure preparation.

If you have any questions about SARS or any other health issue, you can call 770-SARS for St. Mary's, or 982-5757 for Washoe Medical Center. The nurses at both hospitals can answer your questions and even send you additional information.

Carson-Tahoe hospital and the REMSA ambulance service are also stocked with the right tools -- health officials tell us they take the same precautions for SARS as they do for tuberculosis and other airborne diseases, so they've been well-equipped for this situation.

Part of this preparation is really a public awareness campaign. Health officials want people to be educated so they don't panic.

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SARS: Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome


  • A fever of greater than 100.4°, coughing and shortness of breath.
  • Other possible symptoms include chills, headache, general feeling of discomfort and body aches.
  • Death is caused by respiratory failure.


  • SARS appears to spread through close contact, such as coughing or sneezing. It is possible that SARS can be transmitted more broadly through the air or from objects that have become contaminated.
  • Those most at risk appear to be family members and health care workers who have had close contact with an infected person.
  • SARS typically appears two to seven days after exposure.


  • Scientists have detected a previously unrecognized coronavirus in patients with SARS. While the new coronavirus is still the leading hypothesis for the cause of SARS, other viruses are still under investigation as potential causes.
  • Coronaviruses are a group of viruses that have a halo or crown-like (corona) appearance when viewed under a microscope. These viruses are a common cause of mild to moderate upper-respiratory illness in humans and are associated with respiratory, gastrointestinal, liver and neurologic disease in animals. Coronaviruses can survive in the environment for as long as three hours.


  • Several treatment regimens have been used for patients with SARS, but there is insufficient information at this time to determine if they have had a beneficial effect.
  • Those suspected of having SARS are being quarantined. The best treatment is unclear because different medicines, both antibiotic and antiviral, have been used in different hospitals.
  • Doctors don't know why some victims die and others recover. It could be because of the many drugs they are being given, or just the normal course of the disease.


  • SARS was first recognized in Hanoi, Vietnam, on Feb. 26.
  • An outbreak of pneumonia of similar symptoms struck Guangdong province, China, last November and was only brought under control in mid-February.


  • U.S. health officials said travelers should consider postponing trips to China, Singapore or Vietnam.
  • People who visit areas affected by SARS will be given a special card when they re-enter the United States. The card says:
    “During your recent travel, you may have been exposed to cases of severe acute respiratory disease syndrome. You should monitor your health for at least seven days. If you become ill with fever accompanied by cough or difficulty in breathing, you should consult a physician.” Travelers should save the card and give it to a doctor in case symptoms appear.

Could SARS Be Related to Bioterrorism?

  • Not likely. Experts said the SARS is almost certainly a contagious infection. The head of the CDC, Julie Gerberding, said nothing about the pattern of the spread of the disease suggests bioterrorism.

Pandemic Facts

  • A pandemic is an epidemic over a wide geographic area -- possibly the entire world. Pandemics happen about every 30 years, and health officials long have feared the world is overdue for a major flu attack.
  • The last major pandemic was in 1918 and 1919. Forty million people worldwide died from the Spanish flu.
  • The flu killed more than a million people in 1957 and 1958, and another million in 1968 and 1969.
  • The Centers for Disease Control has a network of contacts in Asia that watches for flu outbreaks. To help identify and monitor SARS, the CDC has activated its emergency operations center to coordinate its teams in various parts of the world.

Source: The Associated Press and The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and contributed to this report.