CONCORD, N.H. (AP) – With reports of SARS in Canada, northern New England hospitals and doctors’ offices are getting patients with fever or respiratory symptoms afraid they may have the sometimes-fatal illness.

No SARS cases have been identified in New Hampshire, but two suspected cases were discovered last month in Vermont.

The two people had recently traveled to Asia. Neither patient was hospitalized and both recovered, said Vermont Health Department Epidemiologist Susan Schoenfeld. Maine also reported two suspected cases last month.

Hospitals nationwide have been advised to give their health care workers respirators and to isolate patients who walk in with suspicious symptoms.

In Canada, SARS has killed 15 people, infected over 300 others and forced more than 7,000 into quarantine. Passengers coming from Toronto into the Manchester, N.H. airport are now given cards describing the symptoms and encouraging them to seek medical attention if they grow ill.

“Adding Toronto is a big change in what we have to do,” said Dr. Jose Montero, chief of disease control for the New Hampshire Department of Health.

With families traveling for school holidays, his office is getting several calls daily from health care providers asking if they should be worried about patients appearing in their offices.

“People are that concerned. It is still new to us. The whole key here is to prevent the spread,” said Lynda Caine, director of infection control at Elliot Hospital in Manchester, N.H.

She said roughly four to six people call or walk into her emergency room each day, fearful that their symptoms may add up to Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome.

Symptoms include a moderate to high fever and respiratory problems such as a cough, shortness of breath or blue coloring in their fingers or lips due to lack of oxygen. But symptoms are not suspect unless the individuals had contact with someone with SARS or traveled within 10 days of the onset of symptoms to Toronto, China, Singapore, Hong Kong or Hanoi, where there are recognized cases of SARS.

There have been six cases serious enough for doctors to contact the Maine Bureau of Health this week, but none of those cases were deemed to be a suspected case of SARS, said Geoff Beckett, assistant state epidemiologist in Maine.

“Possible cases that are investigated occur on a daily basis,” Beckett said from Augusta. “What the hospitals and medical practices are asked to do is screen people very carefully.”

In New Hampshire, SARS has been ruled out thus far by reviewing clinical, travel and contact history for individuals with suspicious symptoms, Montero said.

Caine said any worrisome cases at Elliot have ultimately been diagnosed as something else but health care workers wear respirators and patients are now outfitted with surgical masks until the coast is clear.

AP-ES-04-23-03 1625EDT



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