Ministry cautions against travel to Sars-hit areas

DUBAI - Travel from the UAE to regions stricken by Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (Sars), an atypical pneumonia, is being discouraged by officials of the UAE Ministry of Health. Each day the ministry receives calls from anxious people planning to travel to South-East Asia, for business or pleasure.

By Hani M Bathish

Published: Thu 3 Apr 2003, 12:04 PM

Last updated: Wed 1 Apr 2015, 9:54 PM

Dr Juma Bilal Fairuz, Director of the Department of Disease Control, told Khaleej Times that airlines flying from affected regions were advised to inform their passengers to present themselves to the nearest public health clinic or hospital in the event they should experience certain symptoms indicative of Sars.

People coming to the UAE from South-East Asia are advised to be alert for symptoms like high fever and difficulty in breathing that may indicate they have caught the infection. The UAE has been declared Sars-free by the ministry.

"Each day we get between four to five calls from people who plan to travel to parts of the world where the disease is rampant; we advise them to postpone their travel plans if possible because there is no need to expose themselves to the risk of infection if the travel is not absolutely necessary," Dr Bilal said.

He stressed that although over 1,500 cases of Sars had been reported worldwide, only 78 deaths had so far taken place, which meant that only 0.5 per cent of those infected had succumbed to the infection. He pointed out that most of the infected people had recovered, but this aspect had not been stressed by the media.

"In all cases, you have the good prognosis, when the body's natural immunity defends against the infection and weakens it, symptoms vanish and the patient gets well. Then you have the bad prognosis, when the body's natural immunity is weakened because of the virulence of the agent," Dr Bilal said, adding that the mystery surrounding the disease, the fact that no one knew what caused it or what could cure it, was what prompted people to be so worried.

The ministry has placed no restrictions on travellers coming from countries where Sars cases have been found. The World Health Organisation (WHO) reports the disease has so far affected Canada, China, Hong Kong, Indonesia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

Dr Abdel Ghaffar Abdel Ghafour, Assistant Under-Secretary for Curative Medicine at the ministry, said last month that the most important action to take in dealing with the disease was isolation of the infected person. He said the illness was probably viral in nature and not bacterial.

He said the reason the illness did not come to world attention earlier was probably due to the fact that it was initially considered to be a normal strain of pneumonia.

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