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Harvard Guards Against Epidemic

By Katharine A. Kaplan, Crimson Staff Writer

In response to growing global concern over Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), the University is taking measures to disseminate information about the disease and plan a response should it appear on campus.

No cases of SARS have been reported within the University, said David S. Rosenthal ’59, director of Harvard University Health Services (UHS). But three suspected cases have been reported in Massachusetts, one of which was found in Cambridge.

The illness, which remained unidentified until the end of February, originated in Hong Kong and has since been reported in 15 countries, including the United States, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). No deaths have occurred in the U.S.; however, 69 suspected cases have been reported, according to the WHO.

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) issued a warning March 13 advising that non-essential trips to Hong Kong and Guangdong Province, China and Hanoi, Vietnam be postponed until at least the end of June.

UHS posted an statement on its website before spring break which echoed the CDC’s warning against elective travel to affected areas and provided information about the illness.

“Our major preventative measure is to alert people to this,” Rosenthal said. “It was posted before spring break to alert people who had plans to go to the Far East to be very careful.”

At least one Faculty member has postponed a trip to the region, Rosenthal said.

There are currently about five students participating in study abroad programs in China, but Associate Dean of Undergraduate Education Jeffrey Wolcowitz said that none of them were changing their itineraries in response to the situation.

“We have not heard of any plans to come back,” Wolcowitz said. “The Office of International Programs wrote to students studying in East Asia two weeks ago to provide them with information.”

There are also about ten students currently studying in China under a one-year Yenching fellowship. But Laura Epperson, projects coordinator for the Yenching Institute, said she was unaware of any that were considering altering their plans or returning to the U.S.

Although they have not yet handled any reports of SARS, UHS and the University’s Incident Support Team (IST) are currently considering options for addressing the illness, should any cases arise.

UHS has formulated a protocol for accepting possible SARS patients for treatment.

“We have created some precautions as far as if people call up, they get asked questions about symptoms,” Rosenthal said. “If they say cough and fever, they are told how to get into the health center and immediately into a room, bypassing the waiting room.”

Extra precautions are necessary because of the difficulty in identifying the disease, said Harvard Medical School Professor of Pediatrics Kenneth McIntosh ’58, an expert on SARS.

“The problem is how do you know whom to put into that kind of care, how do you know who’s dangerous and who’s not,” McIntosh said. “The answer is, all you can do is guess, because there’s no way of knowing exactly.”

Symptoms of SARS include a sudden onset of high fever, dry cough and shortness of breath, according to the WHO.

It is spread through close contact with an infected person and possibly through secretions or exhaled droplets, the WHO website explains.

The IST, which handles the planning of proposed University responses to any major crisis, is working out plans for possible ways of immunizing or quarantining large numbers of students, should the need arise.

“They are working on various scenarios on how we would address a situation that could affect a major portion of the University population, and where we could make a safe place for students to gather and be taken care of,” Rosenthal said.

But he said the team has not yet made any final decisions about the specifics of such a plan.

More information on SARS is available on the WHO website, www.who.int/en/.

—Staff writer Katharine A. Kaplan can be reached at kkaplan@fas.harvard.edu

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