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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

Julie Gerberding Holds Press Conference About SARS

Aired April 24, 2003 - 15:03   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

JUDY WOODRUFF, CNN ANCHOR: Interrupt you, Andrea Koppel. I am going to have to interrupt you, because the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta having a news conference right now to talk about the SARS outbreak. This is CDC Director Julie Gerberding.
(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

DR. JULIE GERBERDING, CDC DIRECTOR: ...cases of SARS 39 of these are probable. There's been some SARS probable cases that have moved to the suspect list and some on the suspect list have moved to the probable list. So there's been exchange of individuals. But the total number of probabilities today is 39. Of those 39 cases, 37 occurred in travelers to parts of the world where SARS is -- transmission is occurring. One occurred a health care worker and one was a household contact. There's been no change in the numbers attributable to spread from known SARS cases over the last 24 hours.

We are continuing to prioritize the efforts made to contain this epidemic in the United States, and I want to review very quickly again what, specifically those efforts are. First and foremost, our efforts are targeting travelers to affected areas of the world. The parts of the world where there is ongoing, unlinked community transmission include Hong Kong, China, and Singapore. And currently, we're still considering Vietnam in that category, although the situation in Hanoi looks like the transmission may have slowed down or stopped there. So, we'll be keeping you up to date on the situation there as we get more information from in country.

So, we're continuing to advise travelers not to go to those regions unless it's absolutely necessary. We are not including Toronto in the list of countries where travel restrictions are appropriate. We are also alerting travelers who are going to Canada that there is SARS in that region and that they should be aware of that fact and take appropriate measures to avoid situations where transmission may be occurring. Right now, that's primarily the health care settings in Toronto that are taking care of SARS patients. Beyond that, we're urging all travelers to use common sense measures to protect themselves from any infectious disease. First among those measures is hand hygiene or careful washing with soap and water.

We, in addition to dealing with travelers who are going to countries where SARS may be an issue, we are continuing to alert travelers coming from those countries. We've passed out now more than 6,500 travel alerts to people traveling from Asia where SARS patients may have present. We'll be initiating that alerting process for travelers coming to the United States from Canada toward the end of this week. And that will include not only the Toronto International Airport which sends flights to more than 50 areas in the United States, but in addition, four major and nine smaller border crossings between the U.S. and Canada and Province of Ontario. That effort is ongoing, but there are millions and millions and millions, I think something like 62 million travelers back and forth between Canada every year.

So we are expecting that we'll be issuing a lot of alert's just to cover the large number of travelers that do commute back and forth. We are not including Toronto in the advisory process where we're looking at cases of SARS that are being transmitted in the community in an unlinked fashion. The reason for that is because in Canada, while there have been cases where transmission has occurred outside of hospitals and close household contacts, we can link them all back to the index family that traveled from Hong Kong. And so we can predict, so far in Toronto where the patterns of transmission are leading us and there is no evidence that travelers to that area are at any different risk of acquiring SARS than they are from going to any number of the other countries in the world where sporadic cases have cropped up among returning travelers.

Of course, we're working in a transparent way with Health Canada and the Canadian Government to exchange information, share information as we go forward. And as we learn more, if something changes in Canada, we'll, of course, update our recommendations accordingly. We are very pleased with the ongoing collaboration with the WHO in all of these matters, as well as the incredible collaboration that we have Health Canada and the health care community in Toronto. The CDC team is still in Toronto. They are there specifically to provide technical assistance around prevention of spread in the health care setting. This assistance includes our environmental engineer and some experts in infection containment under circumstances of airborne precaution.

But I think, The most remarkable aspect of this entire SARS response has been the ongoing, high caliber collaboration among all partners. We are learning a great deal from WHO. We are learning a great deal from Health Canada. We are actually extremely fortunate here domestically to have this kind of information exchange and it truly is helping us prepare ourselves for any situation where we would need to invoke stronger measures or more comprehensive measures that containment to protect citizens in the United States. So my thanks and appreciation go to our partners, both in the epidemiology and public health world as well as the laboratory sciences -- scientists who are supporting the investigation everywhere.

So, let me take some questions here. We do have callers on the line. I'll give them a chance to get started. I'll take my first question from a reporter in the room.

QUESTION: Hi, Dr. Gerberding.

Is there a difference in the CDC is identifying the cases versus WHO? Not to put you guys in the middle between Canada and the WHO, but how come you seem to have a closer identification to the way Canada sees these cases, versus WHO? why has the U.S. not issued a travel advisory the way the WHO did?

GERBERDING: We're working with WHO to get more information about the base for their decision. And there may be investigations underway that we don't have information or additional facts to learn. What we know right now is that the cases in Canada are linked primarily to hospitalized SARS patients. The vast majority of the problem in Canada has been among nosocomial spreader or hospital spread of the infection. The involvement of the religious community was linked to health care situation with an affected patient.

And the subsequent spread during the religious meeting is explainable and understandable and we can account for the patterns in that group. That is the source of one probable SARS patient in the United States. The patient was described in the "Morbidity/mortality Weekly Report" today, that individual had attended a religious meeting, returned to the United States, became ill, was hospitalized. The hospital workers who had unprotected exposure to the patient were evaluated. A total of eight of them were put on voluntary furlough, to be sure they weren't incubating SARS. Although that was a precaution, none of them have become ill with SARS at this time. So, there's been no subsequent transmission.

WOODRUFF: Julie Gerberding is the head of the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta.

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