SARS - FAQ
The Disaster Center - Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Page
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Atypical Pneumonia - Frequently Asked Questions
 
The illness | Transmission | Prevention | Face masks
 
The illness

1. What is severe acute respiratory syndrome (atypical pneumonia)?

The illness is an acute respiratory infection that has recently been reported in a number of regions, including Hong Kong. It is a form of atypical pneumonia caused by a new agent.


2. What causes severe acute respiratory syndrome?

The World Health Organization has confirmed a novel coronavirus to be the causative agent for SARS.


3. Is the disease fatal?

In most cases no. With early detection and treatment there is a high chance of recovery. Severe cases are usually seen in patients with pre-existing health problems or who seek treatment at a late stage.


4. What is the incubation period of the disease?

The incubation period typically ranges from 2-7 days, but can last up to 10 days.


5. What are the symptoms of the disease?

The main symptoms include fever (of 38 degrees Celsius or above), malaise, chills, headache and body ache. Chest X-rays show changes compatible with pneumonia. Other symptoms include coughing, shortness of breath or difficulty in breathing, rash and diarrhea.


6. If I think I have the disease, should I go to a Hospital Accident and Emergency Department immediately?

Yes, you should visit the hospital or seek early medical advice from your family doctor if you suspect you are displaying symptoms of the disease.


7. Is there a test for the disease?

A chest X-ray will help confirm the diagnosis. A rapid test has been developed to detect the coronavirus in patients.


8. Is there any treatment available?

Yes, experience in Hong Kong shows that patients react favourably to ribavirin (a broad spectrum antiviral drug) and steroid treatment. Other treatment methods are also being developed and tested.


9. What is the difference between classical/typical pneumonia and atypical pneumonia?

Classical/typical pneumonia is mainly caused by bacteria such as streptococcus.
Atypical pneumonia is mainly caused by viruses such as influenza and adenovirus, bacteria such as chlamydia and mycoplasma, and other unknown agents.


10. What is the difference between influenza and atypical pneumonia?

Influenza symptoms such as fever, cough and headache usually subside within a few days without any serious complications or signs of pneumonia.


Transmission

11. How is severe acute respiratory syndrome transmitted?

Transmission is by respiratory droplets and direct contact with a patient's secretions.


12. Is there any evidence to suggest air-borne transmission?

Based on available information, and the results of scientific analysis, transmission is most consistent with droplets and direct contact with a patient's secretions.


13. Is it safe to use public swimming pools?

There is no evidence of transmission through swimming. In any case, people feeling unwell should not go swimming.


14. Can the disease be contracted by handling money?

There is no evidence of transmission through handling money. However, people should pay careful attention to their personal hygiene and wash hands frequently.

Prevention

15. Is there a vaccine against the disease?

A vaccine is not yet available.


16. Can smoking prevent atypical pneumonia?

The answer is no. Smoking weakens immunity and increases the chance of infection. When a person smokes, their hands are frequently in touch with or positioned near their mouth and nose, increasing the likelihood of acquiring the infection. In addition, face masks have to be taken off when smoking, hence reducing protection.


17. What steps can be taken to help prevent contracting the disease?

Maintain good personal hygiene: Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when sneezing or coughing, and wash hands immediately afterwards with liquid soap. Use a disposable towel or a hand dryer to dry hands. Do not share towels. Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth. If you must do so, wash your hands before touching them.
Develop a healthy lifestyle - a balanced diet, regular exercise, adequate rest and do not smoke.
Keep windows open to maintain good ventilation at home and in the workplace.
People with symptoms of respiratory tract infections should consult the doctor promptly and stop attending work or school.
Under certain situations, the public should wear a face mask to minimize the chance of acquiring the infection through the respiratory tract.


18. How can I avoid contracting the disease in an office setting?

If feeling unwell, employees should seek early medical advice and not go to work. All staff should maintain good personal hygiene and a healthy lifestyle. The office should be well ventilated, and windows opened from time to time. Air conditioners should be well maintained and cleaned regularly. Office furniture and equipment should be kept clean.
19. How can I prevent contracting the disease in a lift?
Maintain good personal hygiene. Wash hands frequently. Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when sneezing or coughing. Wear a face mask if you have symptoms of a respiratory tract infection. Building management should ensure lifts and public access areas are kept clean - lift control panels and door handles should be thoroughly and frequently cleaned with disinfectant or a diluted bleach.
20. How can I avoid contracting the disease when travelling on public transport?
Wear a face mask.
Observe good personal hygiene. Use a tissue paper to hold your spit, then dispose of the soiled tissue paper properly into a bin with a cover.
Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.
Keep windows open to ensure good ventilation.
Do not smoke.
Use a bag to hold vomit and dispose of it properly.
Wash your hands frequently.
21. Should I take any precautions when visiting a health care facility?
The Department of Health has issued advice to all doctors on the prevention of spreading the disease in health care settings. People seeking medical consultation should maintain good personal hygiene. Wash hands frequently. Wear a face mask.
22. What precautions should be adopted if a member of the household is a confirmed or suspected SARS patient?
All household contacts of confirmed or suspected SARS patients will be required to undergo home confinement. They will be required to stay at home for monitoring up to a maximum of 10 days, during which they should:
Wear a face mask for 10 days to reduce droplet spread.
Avoid close contact with family members and other people.
Maintain good personal hygiene. Wash hands frequently.
Keep the environment clean and hygienic. Clean and disinfect facilities with a 1:49 diluted household bleach solution daily; pay attention to proper functioning and cleanliness of toilets and drains; and control breeding of pests.
Pay special attention to your own health. Seek early medical advice if feeling unwell.
23. Will the Department of Health disinfect the homes of confirmed disease cases?
No, but the Department of Health will provide disinfection advice to the families concerned, and those with whom they have had contact.
24. Should clothes be washed after visiting hospitals?
Yes. Wash them immediately you get home.
25. What precautions should be adopted when sharing food at home or in restaurants?
Do not share eating utensils. Adopt the good practice of using serving spoons and chopsticks.
Face masks

26. Why is it necessary to wear a face mask?

Wearing a face mask properly offers satisfactory protection against respiratory tract infections and prevents spread of the infection.
27. Who should wear a face mask?
The following people should wear a face mask:

People with respiratory infection symptoms.
People who care for patients with respiratory infection symptoms.
People who have been in close contact with confirmed or suspected SARS patients should wear a face mask for at least 10 days from the last contact.
People visiting clinics or hospitals.
Health care workers.
Workers handling food.
Public transport operators.
People at crowded places, such as schools, public transport, cinemas or shopping malls.
Although the list of situations requiring the use of a face mask cannot be exhaustive, members of the public may wear one as an extra precautionary measure.

28. What type of face mask should be used?
An ordinary surgical face mask is effective in preventing the spread of droplet infections.
29. Is the N95 face mask the only effective model to prevent atypical pneumonia?
Surgical face masks and the N95 face mask are both effective in preventing the spread of droplet infections.
30. What are the points to note when wearing a face mask?
The face mask should fit snugly over the face.
The coloured side of the face mask should face outwards, with the metallic strip uppermost.
Tie all the strings that keep the face mask in place or fix the elastic bands of the face mask round the ears properly.
The face mask should fully cover the mouth, nose and chin.
Mould the metallic strip to the bridge of the nose.
Try not to touch the facemask once it is secured on your face as frequent handling may reduce its protection. If you must do so, wash your hands before and after touching the facemask.
Under general circumstances, surgical face masks should be changed daily. Replace the face mask immediately if it is damaged or soiled.
Put used face masks into a plastic bag. Tie the bag closed before putting it into a bin with a cover.
31. How often should a face mask be replaced?
In general, a surgical face mask needs to be changed daily. However, replace the face mask immediately if it becomes worn or damaged.
The Disaster Center - Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Page

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