SARS Epidemic, not if but
when will it hit prisons?

----- Original Message ----- 
To: undisclosed-recipients: 
Sent: Saturday, March 22, 2003 11:58 PM
Subject: SARS epidemic, not if but when will it hit prisons

In Holland a plane has been isolated, in Hong Kong flights cancelled. There are ll cases in US (that we know about) death toll in Canada at 3 as of a few hours ago, we must alert everyone at the prisons....these bureaucrats take forever to respond and people aren't being real about this threat in the environment of prisons and jails.  They are disease incubators of the worst kind, even without an epidemic such as this one.

The right thing to do is to release inmates now. They cannot handle an emergency of the scale that would happen with even one outbreak in a gym.  Get the word out, prisons could close and we might need to picket, communications will be vital.

Several schools have closed down in Hong's terrible but it's best that we all know the worst and do our best to prevent or prepare for it.

Here are the forms, let's hook everybody up with us. The prisons are out of control as it is, people will not know where to turn, there are no emergency procedures or isolation rooms in prisons and jails...and no medical care either.  So scary, but we need to be ahead of this thing.

B. Cayenne Bird

The next pandemic is now ready for take-off
(Filed: 23/03/2003) 

The devastating effects of a mystery pathogen have given rise to fears of a modern-day Black Death. Doctors say it is not a question of if such a virus will emerge but when - and, as Lorraine Fraser reveals, millions of air travellers could spread it round the globe. 

As he shuffled through the lobby of the Hotel Metropole, the elderly professor was feeling feverish and faint. At the lift, he steadied himself for a moment in the open doorway before his body convulsed in a series of wracking coughs that sprayed fine droplets of saliva onto the walls and the people waiting inside.

The 64-year-old doctor, from Guangdong province in southern China, was in Hong Kong last month to attend a wedding reception. He never made it. On February 22, he was admitted to a hospital on Hong Kong Island. Ten days later he was dead.

His symptoms had been those of pneumonia but doctors were baffled when his condition failed to respond to conventional treatment. In the end, they could only stand by as his lungs, infected by an unknown pathogen, expanded until they were unable to transfer oxygen to his bloodstream and he suffocated.

He left a deadly legacy. Within days, seven people who had come into contact with him at the hotel had been struck down with the same illness, along with seven hospital staff who had treated him. They in turn spread it unwittingly to others.

By the time the authorities woke up to what was happening, the virus - believed to be a mutant strain of pneumonia - had spread with stunning speed and devastating effect not just around Hong Kong, but across Asia, Europe and America. 

It appeared to be the sort of unfolding medical nightmare that terrifies health officials: an unidentified, seemingly untreatable, lethal virus was ravaging the world like a modern-day Black Death.

By yesterday, more than 350 suspected cases of what has now been given the name severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars), had been reported to the World Health Organisation. So far, more than 12 people have died. Scores of travellers are now under observation in hospitals around the world, including two in Britain.

The source of the condition is still unclear. However, details about the professor, unearthed by medical investigators in the past few days, suggest a strong link to an outbreak of atypical pneumonia in southern China's Guangdong province, which has affected 305 people since last November, killing five.

Such is the WHO's concern, that it has urged people to call their doctors immediately if they have a high fever (above 38C) and a cough or breathing difficulties after recently travelling to a country where Sars has been reported, or having had contact with a Sars case. The organisation's director-general, Dr Gro Harlem Brundtland, had no hesitation last week in calling the mysterious illness a "world-wide threat".

Dr Brundtland's strident declaration reflects a genuine concern among infectious disease specialists about the spread of Sars and its risks. But behind them is another nagging fear: the possible threat of a new global influenza pandemic.

The worst pandemic in history, the "Spanish Flu" of 1918-1919, killed at least 20 million people, while hundreds of thousands died of "Asian Flu" in 1957 and the milder "Hong Kong Flu" in 1968. New influenza viruses, some of the most infectious known to man, arise frequently in the Far East. 

In China, in particular, the common combination of a dense, young population living in close proximity with farmed animals, such as ducks, chickens and pigs, provides the ideal environment for infectious respiratory viruses to mix, mutate and spread - just as Sars did.

This weekend scientists in Hong Kong, Germany and the United States are using the most sophisticated electronmicroscopes and viral culture techniques on specimens from patients in an attempt to establish the cause of the latest outbreak. 

WHO has been trying for weeks to gain more information on the new Chinese strain of pneumonia and today a team will arrive in Beijing to examine paperwork on the cases, although the organisation's officials do not know whether they will be able to examine patients or gain access to tissue samples.

When the first cases of Sars were seen in Hong Kong last month, virologists at the Hong Kong University, which forms a pivotal part of the WHO's global influenza warning system spanning 83 countries, were already in a state of high alert. In February, they had isolated an "H5NI" bird-flu virus in a nine-year-old boy whose father and eight-year-old sister had died after a Chinese New Year visit to the Fujian province in China.

The new H5N1 virus has similarities with another that hit Hong Kong in 1997 which affected 18 people and killed six. That version, thought to have jumped directly from birds to man, was stopped in its tracks only after every chicken in Hong Kong was slaughtered. 

However, last autumn, doctors in America described in a scientific report how the virus was able to cleverly side step the immune defences of its victims. They warned that another equally dangerous version could easily arise.

Luckily, it so far seems that whatever the causes of Sars, the spread of the syndrome requires closer contact than would normally be expected of an influenza virus - probably direct contact with respiratory secretions or body fluid. Nevertheless, there is a salutary lesson in the way Sars has been carried around the world with such apparent ease.

The outbreak of the mutant pneumonia in southern China brought fear to the streets before its apparent peak in mid-February.

In Hong Kong, where more than 220 cases of Sars have now been recorded, the numbers continue to rise and the full impact there and elsewhere of the arrival of one sick professor from Guangdong is now becoming clear.

It appears that among those infected at the Hotel Metropole was an American-Chinese businessman who became the first person to be officially diagnosed with Sars when he fell ill after travelling from Hong Kong to Hanoi in late February. 

The man was admitted to hospital in the Vietnamese capital with a fever, sore throat and a dry cough and later died. Sixty-two people connected with the hospital later fell ill and two died.

Three women who had also been at the Metropole took the virus with them to Singapore, where they were hospitalised. It spread from them to 41 people, including a doctor who later travelled to New York to attend a medical conference - on infectious diseases. 

He began feeling ill in America and after boarding a flight home was taken to hospital last weekend during a stopover in Frankfurt. Two visitors to Hong Kong from Canada also picked up the infection. Sui-chu Kwan, 78, died in Toronto on March 5 and her son, Chi Kawi Tse, died days later.

Another to have contracted the virus at the hotel was a local Hong Kong man who picked up the infection while visiting a friend. As a result, nearly 60 members of staff and 17 medical students at Hong Kong's Prince of Wales Hospital were infected. Now the disease has begun to spread to schoolchildren.

It is this Hong Kong local man who is now thought to be the "index case" for 80 per cent of the patients who have fallen ill with Sars in Hong Kong. WHO officials insist that there is no evidence to suggest that the cause is an H5N1 flu virus or influenza. "We looked very closely for that and didn't find it," said one.

Last week virologists in Germany and Hong Kong announced that they had found traces of a virus of the family Paramyxoviridae in samples from patients. 

This family of virus includes other well-known human pathogens such as measles (which is extremely infectious) and mumps (which is less so). Canadian doctors have also found a Paramyxovirus in six cases, though more research will be needed to confirm it as the cause.

The best hope of an answer may lie with the doctor from Singapore who travelled to the New York medical conference with the infection. He is now recovering, but his pregnant wife is understood to have early signs of the disease and doctors at the Frankfurt Hospital where they are both being treated will be able to study its course from start to finish.

It is likely that the doctor's wife will be treated with the antiviral drug ribavirin, which has has been found to help some patients with the syndrome. Tailor-made medicines or a vaccine, however, will take years to develop.

In the meantime, the health scare that for a few days at least gripped the world would seem to be at an end. In Britain, despite warnings not to panic, the news that Sars may have arrived here played on the worst fears of health authorities and the public alike. 

Newspapers chronicled the growing fear, with headlines such as: "UK case of Asian killer bug", "Deadly Pneumonia in the UK" and "Killer jet bug now in London and Swansea".

Nigel Glassey, a 64-year-old solicitor was the first to be named as a suspected victim of Sars after he returned home to Manchester from a trip to Hong Kong and fell ill. The NHS had been told to look out for suspected cases and a doctor in Manchester reacted with military precision, conducting a battery of tests and arranging for Mr Glassey to be transferred to an isolation ward.

Other suspected cases were investigated in Barnet, north London, Swansea, Birmingham and Dublin. Tests are continuing on two "probable" cases in London, but by Friday it was revealed that Mr Glassey has, in fact, been suffering from a type of Asian flu which responds to vaccines and was expected to be circulating around the world this year.

Sars now looks unlikely to be the next untreatable plague that will wipe out millions of the human race. But while it has not become the fourth pandemic to sweep the world in the past century, most specialists believe that it is now not a question of if a new epidemic will appear but when. And when it does, the danger is that millions of intercontinental airline passengers travelling every day will unwittingly spread it around the globe.

   22 March 2003: 'Second' British case of mystery bug 
   21 March 2003: Chinese doctor spread killer virus in hotel
   21 March 2003: British virus victim in isolation unit
   20 March 2003: Travel bug breakthrough 
   19 March 2003: Killer bug could be new microbe
   18 March 2003: Mystery illness hits first British victim
   17 March 2003: Worldwide alert as air travellers spread killer bug