WHO recommends new respiratory disease screening measures for air travellers

WHO recommends new respiratory disease screening measures for air travellers

With the number of cases of and deaths from a recently emerged respiratory disease climbing, the United Nations World Health Organization (WHO) is recommending new screening measures at airports in four countries in a bid to reduce any further international spread of the illness, known as severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS).

The recommendations cover airports at Toronto in Canada, Singapore, Beijing, Guangdong, Hong Kong, Shanxi and Taiwan Province in China, and Hanoi in Viet Nam. As of today 1,485 cases and 53 deaths had been reported, mostly in China and other parts of Southeast Asia, an increase of 77 cases over the previous day.

The measures, recommended for consideration by national health officials and port authorities, involve an interview with passengers to detect illness with symptoms that give reason to suspect that a passenger may be infected with SARS, WHO said. National authorities may wish to advise travellers with fever to postpone travel until they feel better. All international travellers should be aware of the symptoms of SARS and seek immediate medical attention should symptoms occur.

The agency said the affected areas, where transmission of the SARS infectious agent is known to be spreading in a human-to-human chain, are being kept under constant review and no additional precautions for screening departing passengers at airports in any other parts of the world were needed as yet.

Most cases continue to occur in persons in close face-to-face contact with SARS patients. Close face-to-face contact could conceivably occur in an aircraft among persons seated close to a person infected with SARS and coughing or sneezing.

WHO has also issued detailed recommendations to airlines on steps to take should a suspected case of SARS be detected in flight. Its recommendations include advice on step-by-step procedures for following up fellow passengers on the flight who may have had close contact with the possible case and the specific advice that should be given to these travellers and their families.

The agency recommends that contacts of a person be allowed to continue to travel so long as they do not have symptoms compatible with SARS.


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