Wed, 16 Apr 2003

British SARS suspect uncooperative

Sari P. Setiogi and Moch. N. Kurniawan, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

The mystery of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, or SARS, is keeping people guessing, with scientists still not in total agreement as to how it is transmitted or what SARS is exactly.

The latest data issued by the World Health Organization (WHO) reports 3,169 cases with 144 fatalities in 21 countries.

In Jakarta, a relative who insisted on entering a hospital isolation room where a family member with suspected SARS was being treated, later showed similar symptoms.

Family members are not supposed to be allowed to enter the isolation rooms for any reason. It seems the hospital's health- care workers were not strict enough in implementing this policy and some people's awareness of the importance of isolation rooms is absent.

Some hospitals have implemented infection-control procedures, primarily that all health-care staff, particularly those in the hospital wards, wear surgical masks.

St. Carolus Hospital in Salemba, Central Jakarta, is an example.

Public relations director Dr. Endang Suryatno told The Jakarta Post on Tuesday that visitors with SARS-like symptoms would be provided with masks.

"We have not yet limited the number of visitors, but we may implement such a policy soon," Endang said.

Head of medicine at Pantai Indah Kapuk Hospital in North Jakarta, Dr. Peter Budisusetija, said it urged older or less- healthy relatives to avoid visiting hospitals.

"Unless absolutely necessary, it is better for people to avoid visiting hospitals," he said.

He said surgical masks had been distributed among health-care workers, particularly those having direct contact with patients, such as in emergency rooms or clinics.

The Sulianti Suroso Hospital for Infectious Diseases in Sunter, North Jakarta, which is also the isolation center for SARS patients, has been divided into three different areas.

Dr. Sardikin Giriputro, head of the SARS treatment center, said they had divided the hospital into red, yellow and green areas.

"Red is for the isolation area, which is firmly restricted. The yellow area is for those provided with protection masks and the green area is open to the public, such as the office."

"We also urge visitors not to come in groups," Sardikin said. The policy would be implemented more strictly than before, he added.

The Siloam Gleneagles Hospital in Lippo Karawaci, Tangerang, is taking the strictest precautions, limiting warded patients a maximum of two visitors a day from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Outpatients are only allowed one person to accompany them.

Visitors are also required to wear masks before entering the hospital. The hospital provides masks for those who do not have them.

Visitors are also required to complete a check list on preventing SARS. The management also suggests visitors cover lift buttons with supplied tissue paper before pressing them.

Hospital CEO Dr. Grace Frelita said they did not want to cause paranoia among people, but: "We take this as something important for their own sake."

"As a health-care institution we have to protect all patients and hospital staff," she said.

Meanwhile, the government's investigation team, attempting to trace people in recent contact with a British man suspected of having SARS, were having difficulties.

Investigation team member Dr. Azimal said the company where the man worked would not provide any information.

He also said the patient, currently in the SARS treatment center, was asking to return home as his condition was improving, but the company had no isolation site for him.

"So we prefer to wait for another three days until he passes his incubation period of 10 days," Azimal said.

He said the man was uncooperative.

"He did not want to reveal which flight he took or whom he met during his trip to Singapore. He talks in broken English, so he is really giving us a hard time."

He said they were not able to trace his flight through the airlines as the information was confidential.