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Pacific Command Limits Asia Trips Due to SARS Outbreak

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, April 4, 2003 – Defense Department personnel may make only mission-essential trips to China and Hong Kong because of the threat of severe acute respiratory syndrome, U.S. Pacific Command officials said today.

"All Hong Kong port visits by U.S. Navy ships will be deferred until the restriction has been lifted," Pacific Command spokeswoman Lt. Cmdr. Jensin Sommer said.

The restriction is consistent with recommendations made by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The U.S. State Department has also issued a travel advisory citing the disease. The travel advisory includes China, Hong Kong, Singapore and Hanoi, Vietnam.

SARS, as it is known, is an infection that seems to spread from close contact. The syndrome was first diagnosed in China and spread to Hong Kong. Scientists still don't know what sort of virus or bacteria causes the illness, CDC officials said.

There have been more than 2,300 SARS cases reported in 19 countries worldwide. The vast majority of these cases are in Asia with 734 in Hong Kong, 1,190 in China and 59 in Vietnam.

The largest outbreak outside Asia is 178 cases in Canada. There were 85 reported cases in the United States. A total of 79 people have died from the syndrome worldwide.

According to CDC, the main symptoms of SARS are high fever over 100 degrees, dry cough and shortness of breath or breathing difficulties. SARS may be associated with other symptoms, including headache, muscular stiffness and loss of appetite, malaise, confusion, rash and diarrhea.

Sommer stressed that the Pacific Command restriction is temporary. The limitation applies to all military and civilian DoD personnel. "DoD civilians, their families and family members of military personnel may travel to these areas for leave purposes, but are advised to take additional precautions," Sommer said.

"No U.S. military service member has been diagnosed with SARS to date," she said. "This global outbreak poses a potential risk to our personnel similar to other infectious diseases such as tuberculosis, flu and measles."

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