DR HSU DAR REN of Kuala Lumpur (via e-mail) writes:
THE outbreak of the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome in several countries in East Asia is frightening and alarming.
Seldom in the history of medicine did a disease spread as fast and as widely as this recent outbreak, thanks to globalisation and jet travel.
Though we have no confirmed cases in our country as yet, we must not be complacent and we must be proactive in taking preventive measures to prevent this deadly disease from spreading among our population.
I wish to congratulate the Health Ministry for being proactive in sending a medical team to Singapore to get first-hand knowledge from the doctors treating the disease there.
And as I understand, government medical personnel are being provided with disease preventing masks, and briefed on safety procedures to adopt. The ministry has also sent out circulars to all practising doctors to look out for this disease. All these must be commended.
In this age of borderless travel, it is inevitable that the disease will surface in our country. To prevent it from spreading once it comes in, I would like to suggest a few measures.
The ministry and hospital authorities must be transparent in reporting and handling of this case. Since this is a new and unknown virus and there are actually no confirmatory tests as yet, any suspected case of SARS must be classified as SARS.
Remember, SARS at the moment is a syndrome, the diagnosis of which is based solely on clinical grounds. So any suspected cases, which fit in the clinical pictures of this syndrome, must be reported as a case of SARS.
Adopt quarantine measures immediately and effectively once a case is diagnosed as SARS. Until such time when we have a definitively treatment, and for viruses there is actually none, this is the only way to prevent the disease from spreading in the community.
However harsh this may seem, for the common good of the community, individual freedom has to be restricted.
Increase surveillance in the ports of entry. All passengers embarking and disembarking should be screened for fever. Any sick passenger must be immediately separated and observed.
Educate the public about good personal habits. Washing hands before touching ourselves or before eating has always been a good habit to prevent illness.
The problem is most hand-washing is not done correctly. The most important area that we should wash is the tips of our fingers which are the parts we actually use when we touch something.
Proper ways of washing hands should be taught through TV and classrooms. It is also a good habit to cover and our mouth nose when we sneeze.
Hospital visits should be restricted. Non-essential visits to wards should not be allowed until such time when the crisis is over. Similarly, the public should be discouraged from travelling overseas unless it is really essential.
Every effort must be made to contain this disease even though some measures may seem unpopular and harsh. All of us must co-operate and help the Government in dealing with this disease, which can strike anyone regardless of age, sex or social status.
Prevention is always better than cure. In this case, there is no cure and prevention is our only hope to fight the spread of this disease.