SARS claims fewer lives than flu

County health director says to be aware, but not panicked, over the respiratory disease

Hood River’s lead health official said hand-washing could be the best defense against catching SARS and other illnesses that are spread by person-to-person contact.

“It’s just like your mother always told you, the best thing you can do is wash your hands a lot,” said Ellen Larsen, director of the county health department.

She said although cases of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) have been reported in more than 26 countries around the world, the illness has yet to reach the state of Oregon. And, contrary to extensive media coverage about SARS deaths, Larsen said the disease has actually killed far less people than influenza strains do each year.

“We live in a very small world so it’s definitely something to pay attention to but not get panicked over,” Larsen said.

For example, she said, as of Thursday, there had been 5,663 cases of SARS tabulated by the World Health Organization (WHO). Of that total, Larsen said 372 people had died — much less than the 576 Oregon residents alone who succumbed to the flu in 2001. She said one similarity between SARS and the flu is that it appears to be most deadly among “vulnerable” populations, such as the elderly and those with weakened immune systems. WHO officials contend that the global death rate of SARS is about six percent and far lower than that of AIDS, Ebola or malaria.

“The big thing is that it’s a new disease and there is a lot of concern that it’s going to be the next pandemic that moves around the world,” Larsen said.

Because of the heightened state of global concern, Pres. George W. Bush recently added SARS to the list of diseases that necessitate the quarantine of its victims.

Larsen said SARS is believed to be a new strain of the coronavirus family, which typically causes colds in humans. She said the illness appears to be spread primarily through direct touch to the skin of an infected person or by handling objects they have been in contact with and then touching your own eyes, nose or mouth. However, she said there is also scientific speculation that SARS might also be transmitted more broadly through the air when an infected person coughs or sneezes.

Larsen said the first phase of SARS involves flu-like symptoms, with patients experiencing a fever of 100.4 degrees or higher, chills, headache and muscle aches. Within a week, most victims develop a dry cough and difficulty in breathing, and some also get severe diarrhea.

Early treatment of the illness appears to make recovery much faster and less debilitating, but Larsen said people who suspect they have contracted SARS should notify their medical care provider prior to making an office visit.

“Don’t just show up, you need to call and let them know you are coming or have someone go inside and alert them,” said Larsen. “You don’t want to take this potentially serious disease and give it to everyone in the waiting room.”

She said regular updates on SARS are posted on the Webiste of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention at

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Parkdale third graders sing "12 Disaster Days of Christmas"

Welcome to your sing-able Christmas gift list. What follows is an emergency rendition of “12 Days of Christmas” – for outfitting your home or car in case of snow storm, earthquake, flood or other emergency. Read it as a simple list, or sing it to the tune of “12 Days” – you know, as in “ … and a partridge in a pear tree…” Not to make light of it, but the song is a familiar framework for a set of gift ideas that you could consider gathering together, even if the recipient already owns items such as a bunch of coats, tire chains and flashlights. Stores throughout the Gorge are stocked up on all these items. Buying all 12 days might be prohibitive, but here are three ideas for checking any of the dozen off your list (notations follow, 1-12.) The gift items needed to stay warm, dry and safe are also coded to suggest items in your abode (A) in your car (C) or both (B). 12 Gallons of Water (A) 11 Family meals (B) 10 Cans of propane (A) 9 Hygiene bags (B) 8 Packs of batteries (A) 7 Spare coats (B) 6 Bright red flares (C) 5 Cozy blankets (B) 4 Tire chains (C) 3 Flashlights (B) 2 cell phone chargers (B) 1 And a crush-proof first aid kit (B) Price ranges? Here’s a few quotes for days Three, Two, Four and Nine: n A family gift of flashlights (three will run $15-30, Hood River Supply, Tum-A-Lum) n Cell phone chargers (two will run $30-60) n Tire chains (basic set, $30, Les Schwab, returnable if unused for the winter) n Family meals ($100 or so should cover the basics for three or four reasonably well-fed days) n The home kit should be kept in a handy place near an exit, and remember that water needs to be replenished every few months. If you have a solid first aid kit already, switch out the gift idea with “and-a-sto-o-u-t- tub-for it-all …” Otherwise, it’s a case of assembling your home or car kits and making sure all members of the family know what the resources are and how to use them (ie flares and propane). Emergency situations are at worst life-threatening, at best deeply uncomfortable if you and your family are left without power for an extended period, or traveling and find yourself in a situation where you need to wait out a storm, lengthy traffic delay, or other crisis. Notes on the 12 gift ideas: 12 – Gallons of water: that’s one per person in a four-member family to last for three days, the recommended minimum to be prepared for utility outages. 11 – Easy-open packaged goods, energy bars, dried food and nuts are good things to include for nutrition. Think of what your family of four needs for three days to stay fortified and hydrated (see number 12). Can-opener also recommended 10 – If you have a propane camping stove, keep extra fuel handy. 9 – Hygiene bags: put packaged moistened towelettes, toilet paper, and plastic ties in large garbage bags (for personal sanitation) Resource list courtesy of Hood River County Emergency Management, Barbara Ayers, manager/ 541-386-1213. The county also reminds residents to Get a Kit, Make A Plan to connect your family if separated, and Stay Informed. See to opt-in for citizen alerts. Enlarge

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