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Protecting Your Family From SARS

Taking Proper Care of Your Child To Prevent SARS

"I don't think I'm paranoid, just cautious," says Diane Wolf of Ontario, Canada. She believes the small lifestyle changes she has made to protect her family from severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) are just common sense in a time of uncertainty. Wolf, the mother of three children, has canceled some business trips into Toronto and avoids large crowds. "We have had several people quarantined in my area, although none have actually been confirmed," says Wolf. "They were people who were possibly in contact with SARS victims."

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 2,722 SARS cases from 16 countries had been reported to the World Health Organization as of April 9, 2003, resulting in 106 deaths.

Understanding SARS

Dr. Paul Lewis, assistant professor of pediatrics and hospital epidemiologist for the Oregon Health and Sciences University, believes the most important factor people should understand about SARS is that international cooperation will both limit the spread of this new illness and lead to rapid identification of the likely cause. "Shared knowledge about transmission of the virus and its biology will lead to more effective methods to limit its spread and hopefully to better treatment options and maybe a vaccine," says Dr. Lewis.

In the meantime, Lewis believes that proper hygiene and adherence to the guidelines set forth by public health officials are the best way for the public to combat spreading SARS. "In the hospital we prevent spread of infections by preventing contagious patients from having contact with other patients and having health care workers carefully wash their hands before and after patient contact," says Dr. Lewis. "In addition, for SARS patients, health care workers wear gowns, gloves, eye protection and masks. If there were community transmission of SARS in the U.S., the public would need to carefully follow the recommendations of the county and state public health officials." However, thus far, there has been little, if any, community spread of SARS in the United States, says Dr. Lewis.

What About the Children?

Most parents are concerned about their children contracting SARS, though currently in North America the most common place for contracting the disease is at hospitals rather than schools. Dr. Lewis says that very few international or North American cases have been children. "Most cases appear to be in people ages 40 to 60," he says. "The reasons for this are not entirely clear. Many cases are in health care orkers, and the age distribution may reflect those who work in hospitals, i.e. those most likely to be exposed to contagious patients."

outbreak, they have implemented strict rules about visitors and patients, including allowing only one parent at a time to visit a child, closing all public areas, such as cafeterias, and requiring masks to be worn at all times. They are also reminding the public that this is the time of year that children normally come down with colds and other respiratory illnesses.

"Respiratory infections among children are very common, so parents should not jump to the conclusion that it must be SARS," says Dr. Stanley Read, chief of infectious diseases at the Hospital for Sick Children. "If you are concerned about your child's illness, consult your family physician or health care provider."

Because SARS is so prevalent in the media, the Children's Hospital of Toronto has put together a list of how you can help your child combat any fears they may have concerning SARS:

Facilitate a Discussion

  • Do not minimize the danger of SARS, but put the problem into a realistic perspective.
  • Give factual information about SARS.
  • Discuss concerns in terms that your child can understand.
  • It is OK for parents to talk about their own concerns and anxiety in an honest way.
  • It is scary for children if they feel that adults are too afraid to talk or are hiding something.
  • Feel free to say when you don't know the answer, and be willing to find out information.

Offer Reassurance
  • Explain to your child that there are practical steps he/she can take, such as hand washing, to minimize the threat.
  • Make sure they understand that they should not share snacks or drinks with friends.
  • Engage in normal family routines. This is comforting, because it is familiar and predictable.
  • Be prepared to spend a little more time with your child to convey that you are available to them.

SARS and Motherhood

Scientist and doctors are working nonstop to find more answers about this virus. At this point, we have no idea of the answers to questions such as how SARS may affect an unborn baby or a child who nurses. Until we do, parents such as Diane Wolf will continue to remain on guard. "As far as medical science has come, they seem to conquer one problem only to have a new one crop up," says Wolf. "Until they get a handle on controlling SARS, I will continue to be vigilant."

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