East Texas Hospitals Ready for SARS

Two suspected cases of SARS are within 90 miles of Tyler and Longview. The virus has killed more than 200 people, mostly in China, Singapore, and Canada. No SARS deaths have been reported in the United States. But, that's not stopping local hospitals from taking the threat of SARS seriously.

ETMC's Tyler Emergency room was busy Tuesday morning with traditional traumas and illnesses. So far no one in East Texas has had SARS like symptoms. But Dr. Robert Creath, ETMC's chief of emergency services says that could soon change.  "I think we will. I think it's just a matter of time. Obviously it's going to be in areas most where people travel to China, where it's primarily been originated."

Across the state, there have been only 7 reports of suspected SARS cases. One each in Lubbock, Travis and Ft. Bend counties. Harris County and nearby Collin County have both had two cases. While none of these cases appear to be connected, they do present similar symptoms.

Dr. Creath says local ER's are looking for those same signs.  "They are people that have symptoms of upper respiratory type infections, meaning coughs, colds, those types of things. Then we look for travel to China or areas where this problem has been endemic."

Dr. Creath says if a patient in East Texas begins to match that checklist of symptoms, they would be immediately separated from the rest of the patients. "We put them in an isolation area. We put a mask on that has a special filter that prevents the virus from getting up into the environment from the patient themselves. And then, we run testing and we notify the state."

Because SARS is transmitted similarly to other airborne viruses, doctors say they are well prepared to deal with potential cases. They just hope they won't have to.

Dr. Creath says while the SARS pandemic has received a lot of attention recently, it is less deadly than the flu. If you would like more information, head to KLTV.com. Click on the Know More on 7 icon and you'll find a link to the Center for Disease Control's SARS webpage.

Stephen Parr, reporting.