Heightened concern over the outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome in the United States has led the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to issue a travel advisory discouraging nonessential travel to Hong Kong, China, Singapore and Hanoi, Vietnam. Less travel is expected to lead to a loss of $250 million in Hong Kong, according to Morgan Stanley Dean Witter.

“I start working in Hong Kong in July,” Art and Design senior Rosalyn Woo said. “Hopefully everything will be better by then, but if it gets worse, I will talk to the company to see if there is anything else I can do. If I do go, I’ll take precautions, like wear a mask like everyone else is doing.”

Though the travel advisory discourages travel to some countries, many in those countries have problems leaving.

“A big problem is that a lot of us seniors have parents coming for graduation,” Woo said. “My parents are in Hong Kong and already bought tickets to come for graduation but are worried about flying because in one incident, an infected person spread the disease in an airplane because of the circulating air. They are looking at the situation to see if it gets worse and they may end up avoiding the travel.”

Though SARS has caused only 54 deaths compared with the 500,000 caused worldwide by influenza each year, the mystery disease has put the world in an agitated atmosphere similar to that during the polio outbreak in the United States in the ’50s.

Since the illness was first discovered in November in Hanoi, Vietnam, it has infected 1,550 people. Carlo Urbani, the World Health Organization doctor who first diagnosed the disease in an American businessman, recently died from the disease after spending 15 days in a Hospital in Bangkok. SARS was nearly unnoticed by the international community until early February, when reports began to leak out of China through the Internet. The Chinese government quickly declared the situation under control.

Symptoms include fever, cold chills, muscle and headaches, dry coughs and hypoxia – where body tissues lack sufficient amount of oxygen.

Doctors found the disease to be contained in respiratory droplets found in mucus and other bodily liquids that can stay airborne for nearly three hours, making the disease transferable through close contact with infected people and objects. SARS has a 10-day incubation period.

Though it only took 10 days to identify the highly contagious illness, a vaccine is years away. Current treatment includes isolation in a pressurized room, antibiotic dosages and respirators.

On Friday, the virus was isolated by doctors and scientists working with the WHO, which is leading efforts in coordinating communication between physicians currently treating SARS patients.

“So the stepping stones are there for a vaccine, but not much research has started on it,” Stohr added.

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