A trip to China has cost three female Colorado nurses a trip to quarantine.
Three nurses part of an 18-day educational tour of China were quarantined last week after experiencing symptoms consistent with Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, commonly known as SARS.
The state’s chief medical officer said at press time the three nurses had not officially been diagnosed with the disease that has spread from Asia, only that their symptoms warranted further observation.
Because of a change of the provisional clinical case definition of the disease the three nurses were termed "suspect" cases.
The definition was changed late Mar. 29 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta to include travel to all of China rather than just travel to the Guangdong Province in Southern China. The case definition also continues to include travel to Hong Kong, Vietnam and Singapore accompanied with a fever of 100.5 and above along with a cough, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing.
The three nurses were part of a 34-member group that included 20 health care workers.
A 28-year-old nurse from the City and County of Broomfield was hospitalized recently at Boulder Community Hospital where she was put in isolation while in stable condition. The two other nurses, also experiencing respiratory symptoms and other criteria, did not require hospitalization. They were directed to stay at home and avoid outside contact and provided with information on protecting their family members from the illness.
"The balancing act is to try to keep people from panicking," said Dr. Ned Calonge, Colorado’s chief medical officer. "We’re all looking at the experiences in Toronto and Ontario. Those cases looked mild and I don’t want us to be in the same situation.
"We want good, aggressive isolation activities and a conservative approach to make sure we don’t have SARS in Colorado."
Calonge said health officials are walking a proverbial tightrope right now in regards to the information they release and the actions they take. Calonge said he doesn’t want to scare the public into think SARS is everywhere, but he also doesn’t want people to take the disease, which has a fatality rate of around 3-4 percent, lightly.
After alerting hospitals Mar. 29 of what to look for, Calonge said the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment began receiving reports the very next day.
"I’m very pleased with the response," Calonge said of Colorado’s healthcare agencies," Calonge said. "You want to cast a broad enough net so people are looking for it."
As of press time, there were fewer than 100 possible cases of SARS nationwide and only the three in Colorado.
Worldwide, SARS is taxing many public health organizations. A SARS quarantine recently shut down a Canadian hospital. Ontario health officials declared a health emergency and a Canadian hospital that treated to SARS patients who died was closed along with a nearby school where children came down with undiagnosed flulike symptoms.
Hong Kong officials quarantined more than 1,000 people and closed schools while the World Health Organization has urged airlines with international flights to screen passengers for symptoms.
The WHO had previously said it was unlikely SARS could be spread on airplanes, but Hong Kong reported nine passengers became ill from exposure to one passenger on a flight earlier this month.
Last week and American Airlines jet was held for hours on the tarmac once it arrived in San Jose, Calif., after passengers complained of SARS-like symptoms.