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MacDill ready, capable of dealing with SARS virus

by Nick Stubbs
Thunderbolt staff writer

The Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome virus remains a threat of unknown magnitude, but base personnel can be sure of one thing, MacDill is ready if it should show up here. That is according to Lt. Col. Yolanda Geddie, public health flight commander. She says while there are a dozen suspected cases in Florida, none have been confirmed. In one of those cases, the patient died.

That's not to say there is not a genuine threat. With servicemembers who arrive at MacDill being world travelers, it is possible they may have been in a region of the world where the virus is prevalent or have come into contact with a person who came from that region.

"It's a concern, but the people at MacDill are ready," said Geddie. "I'm confident we are prepared to do the right thing (if the virus appears here)."

Geddie said MacDill is "not alone" should the virus arrive here. With Hillsborough County and the Air Force's own Epidemic Response Team available to assist, the systems are in place to deal with whatever comes this way. "Like any potential epidemic, it has a set pattern of response to contain it," Geddie said. "It's a system that's worked for years."

Geddie said at this point the instances of the virus in the U.S. have been far less fatal than in other countries, especially China, where it is believed to have originated. She is not sure if that is due to more advance health care or other reasons, but at this point it has been little different than some other diseases that have been dealt with in the past.

That's not to say the potential for big problems does not exist, she said.

"It could be very bad," Geddie said. "It's just that it hasn't been in the USA."

She went on to say vigilance is the best weapon. The virus is known to be a Corona virus, but also is not related to any known virus in existence. Scientists are working now to decode the gene sequence, the immediate goal being to develop a "rabbit test" for diagnosis.

An effective vaccine is another matter and it is not clear how long it might take to develop one, Geddie said. Much depends on the nature of the virus and its ability to mutate. A virus that mutates quickly can outpace vaccine development, she said.

Geddie added it is important for people with cold or flu symptoms to realize there is little chance they have contracted SARS unless all the elements of risk are present.

Temperatures of 104 degrees, a very dry cough and respiratory problems mark the virus, but not unless the victim has been to the orient recently or been in contact with someone who has been there.

Should someone experience these symptoms, Geddie said the procedure is to wash hands frequently, avoid human contact, cover your mouth and nose with coughing or sneezing and get to a doctor for diagnosis.




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