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Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome

Volume 405: debated on Wednesday 14 May 2003

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To ask the Secretary of State for Health what assessment he has made of the role of aircraft air conditioning systems in the spread of (a) SARS and (b) other infectious diseases; and if he will make a statement. [110807]

The pattern of illness so far suggests that travellers are not at increased risk if they have travelled by plane with someone with severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS). However, as a precaution, if a passenger is identified with symptoms and is suspected of having SARS, the details of those sitting in nearby seats, two rows in front and behind, will be taken and they will be given information on action to take should they develop symptoms within 10 days of the flight.

To ask the Secretary of State for Health what public funds he has made available for research into possible vaccinations against SARS. [111306]

The probable causative pathogen of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) has only recently been identified. There is still a certain amount of scientific work to be carried out before we can start research into the development of a vaccine.

To ask the Secretary of State for Health whether the World Health Organisation recommends against screening by (a) interview and (b) body temperature at airports of entry of passengers returning from SARS affected areas. [110999]

To reduce the risk that travellers may carry the severe acute respiratory syndrome virus to new areas, the World Health Organisation recommends screening international travellers departing from areas where local transmission is occurring, by answering a few questions and may include a temperature check.

To ask the Secretary of State for Health if he will make a statement on the preparations being made at hospitals near Heathrow Airport to treat people arriving at Heathrow Airport who are infected with the SARS virus. [110558]

The Chief Medical Officer issued detailed information to all general practitioners and health professionals on 14 March and subsequently on 7 April. A letter to all chief executives of national health service primary care trusts was also issued on 29 April, reminding them of the action they need to take in their own organisations as a precaution in case of further possible cases presenting to the NHS.

To ask the Secretary of State for Health if he will make a statement on the precautions being taken at Heathrow to prevent the spread of the SARS virus into the United Kingdom via the airport. [110559]

Since the outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), environmental health officers (EHOs) based at Heathrow's health control unit are boarding flights arriving at the airport from high risk areas such as Hong Kong, China and Singapore. EHOs are meeting planes before passengers disembark to ascertain from the cabin crew whether there are any ill passengers on board. In addition, they verify that the airline is aware of their legal requirement to notify port health authorities of any suspected infectious disease.If a passenger has become ill during the flight and develops symptoms suggestive of SARS, an EHO/ health control unit officer and a medical officer will board the plane on its arrival. Airline crew and passengers remain on board while the medical officer assesses the patient and establish the nature of the illness. The health control unit arranges for the patient's subsequent care.

If SARS is suspected, then all passengers and crew will be given information sheets about the illness and the need to seek early medical advice should they develop symptoms within ten days of the flight.

Close contacts, including passengers sitting in the same seating row or within at least two rows in front of or behind the ill passenger, will be given a form to complete. The form will require them to provide their contact details and in the event of the suspected case being confirmed, will enable public health services to monitor their health.

The plane involved will then be impounded by EHOs until it has been disinfected by the airline in accordance with current requirements.

To ask the Secretary of State for Health (1) pursuant to his statement to the House of 28 April, if he will make a statement on the status of a declaration signed by passengers returning from SARS-affected areas; [110931](2) pursuant to his oral statement of 28 April 2003,

Official Report, column 38, on Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, if he will make a statement on the action to be taken against people returning to the United Kingdom from SARS-affected areas, who are unable or unwilling to sign a declaration; [110961]

(3) what (a) scientific and (b) medical advice he has received in support of a policy of screening for SARS at airports using a declaration for passengers to sign. [110923]

Travellers returning from severe acute respiratory syndrome affected areas are not currently required to sign declarations. The statement my right hon. Friend, the Secretary of State made on 28 April, referred to this course of action being considered should the need arise.

To ask the Secretary of State for Health if he has received advice from (a) the World Health Organisation and (b) the Chief Medical Officer on the transmissibility of SARS through (i) aerosol routes and (ii) fomites. [110963]

The World Health Organization (WHO) has on-going research (from members of WHO laboratory network) on the exact mechanism of transmission based on the stability of the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) coronavirus. From the information to date the WHO continues to advise the need for personal protective equipment appropriate for standard, contact, and airborne precautions—for example, hand hygiene, gown, gloves, a face mask providing appropriate respiratory protection, eye protection, footwear that can be decontaminated—for health care workers to prevent transmission of SARS in the health care settings. They have also issued advice on decontamination and disinfection of potential fomites to reduce the spread of infection.The Chief Medical Officer emphasised in his letter to Chief Executives of national health service trusts and primary care trust of 29 April, of the need to maintain absolute rigour in reducing the risk of cross infection through effective respiratory precautions, high quality sterile practice by staff caring for the patient concerned, exceptional standards of environmental hygiene—for example, walls, floors, surfaces—in the clinical areas where patients have been cared for even temporarily, such as walk-in centres, and absolutely no inappropriate re-use of medical devices and equipment.

To ask the Secretary of State for Health if he will list hospitals and primary care trusts where suspected SARS cases are being observed or treated as inpatients. [110964]

There have been a number of cases where people fit the suspect definition of severe acute respiratory syndrome which have been investigated. However from these only four probable cases have emerged. Indeed two previous probable cases have been removed following confirmation of alternative diagnoses. The last case in the United Kingdom was admitted to hospital on 10 April, and all those diagnosed as probable cases have now recovered.

To ask the Secretary of State for Health how many (a) suspected and (b) probable SARS cases there were in the UK on the most recent day for which information is available. [110966]

As of 12 May, there were four probable cases of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) in the United Kingdom.There have been a number of cases where people fit the suspect definition of SARS which have also been investigated. We will only be reporting cases that fit the probable case definition issued by the World Health Organisation. At this time of year in south-east Asia influenza activity is high and we would therefore expect travellers to this area to be returning with flu-like

Diagnoses and rates for selected conditions, total diagnoses and workload in GUM Clinics: England, Wales and Northern Ireland 1997–2001
Infectious syphilis (primary and secondary)Male10188160252613
Uncomplicated gonorrhoeaMale8,6028,64910,97214,72515,903
Uncomplicated genital chlamydial infectionMale16,98519,89622,96228,10030,763
Genital herpes simplex virus (first attack)Male5,8706,3566,3026,4736,787
Genital warts (first attack)Male32,67933,67034,71634,84735,487
All diagnosesMale228,205242,681256,466276,120292,060
All diagnoses and workloadMale464,861498,537519,574561,270628,743

symptoms, which are unrelated to the current outbreaks of SARS. Each suspected case is carefully evaluated on the clinical presentation of its symptoms.

The situation is changing daily, and it would not be beneficial to report suspected cases as there will be many who after investigation do not fit the WHO case definition. We therefore only report on probable cases, as required by WHO.

To ask the Secretary of State for Health what advice and assistance he is giving to people of Chinese origin regarding concerns over the SARS issue; and if he will make a statement. [111782]

[holding answer 7 May 2003]: The Department of Health issued updated information and advice to all travellers from the United Kingdom about severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) on 8 May. This information is reviewed daily.