Plan Devised for Handling Mystery Illness

The Minister of Health called an emergency meeting Tuesday to discuss the country’s preparedness to respond to a potential outbreak of Severe Acute Res­pir­atory Syndrome, the pneumonia-like illness that has struck the region, health officials said.

The ministry is advising the public not to panic, since no confirmed cases have been identified in Cambodia, said the ministry’s Communicable Disease Depart­ment Director, Dr Sok Touch.

Through electronic, print and television media, the ministry today will publicize its preventative plan of action and advice on how the public should respond to the threat of illness, Sok Touch said.

Calmette Hospital has been designated the sole receiving venue for all SARS patients or anyone possibly infected with the illness, Sok Touch said. A single ambulance will be used to transport pa­tients. Patients with other illnesses will be transported in separate vehicles, he said.

To prevent or contain a possible SARS outbreak, the government is working with WHO, Calmette Hospital, the CDD and the Pasteur Institute, whose lab will be used to analyze cultures from suspected patients, said WHO Acting Country Rep­re­sentative Dr Michel Jancloes.

“The Ministry has to develop the capacity to make evidence-based decisions,” Jancloes said. This includes following Geneva-based WHO guidelines to investigate any suspicious illness with a thorough analysis of blood, sputum and stool samples.

Hospitals are being instructed to take measures such as using plastic gloves and masks, sterilizing injections and isolating any pa­tients under suspicion of carrying the illness, he said.

“There is not a single country that has the capacity to manage this outbreak,” Jancloes said. “So it is difficult to comment on Cam­bodia’s capacity.”

Meanwhile, a team of WHO doctors is scheduled to leave for Rata­nakkiri today to in­vestigate what caused up to 10 people to become sick with high fevers and diarrhea, said WHO medical officer Dr Severin von Xy­lander. He said the patients likely had fallen victim to cholera, not SARS.

The Health Ministry also will work with the Ministry of Tour­ism and airport officials to ensure that authorities inform Calmette about any travelers from Hong Kong, other regions of China or Viet­nam who may be suffering from a high fever, von Xylander said.

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