TOPICS > Health

Background: Coping with SARS in Canada

April 23, 2003 at 12:00 AM EDT


SUSAN DENZTER: Today’s warning by the World Health Organization against non-essential travel to Toronto is the latest blow to a city hit hard by SARS. Dozens of local health care workers have contracted the disease from sick patients. As a result, several hospitals had to shutter wards and turn away patients. Business has slumped at Toronto hotels, as visitors scared off by SARS have cancelled conventions and trips. Last weekend, worshippers attending Easter services scrubbed their hands and adopted a no-contact form of taking communion. Meanwhile, many Toronto residents exhibiting SARS symptoms have gone into isolation or quarantine at city officials’ urging.

DR. JAMES YOUNG: If you are feeling ill or have a fever, do not go to work, do not go to school, do not go out in the community.

SUSAN DENTZER: The extreme measures stem from the fact that Canada has recorded the highest number of SARS cases of any country outside Asia. To date, there have been 136 probable SARS cases, and Canadian health officials are monitoring another 131 possible ones; 16 people have died. The vast majority of cases have been in Ontario Province, where Toronto is located. Most can be traced to a single patient, who contracted the disease in late February at a Hong Kong hotel. The patient died after returning to Canada and spreading SARS to close contacts back home. Canada’s SARS woes have been watched nervously by U.S. officials.

DR. JULIE GERBERDING: Of course we know the border with the U.S. is an open border, and we have so many visitors back and forth that, of course, we’re concerned that there is a potential for exposure.

SUSAN DENTZER: In fact, up to half a million passengers travel to the U.S. each month from Toronto’s Pearson Airport. And the bridge and tunnel connecting Detroit with Windsor, Canada, is the busiest land border crossing in the world. To date, only one of America’s 39 probable SARS cases appears to have contracted the disease in Canada. He’s a Pennsylvania man who attended funeral services for a Canadian SARS victim in Toronto, and then drove home.

To help stem any further spread of the disease into the U.S. from Canada, the CDC yesterday announced its own set of warnings to travelers. Unlike the World Health Organization, the CDC is not recommending that travelers avoid any non-essential trips to Toronto. Instead, it’s advising them to avoid Toronto-area hospitals, to wash their hands frequently, and monitor their health closely for ten days after returning to the U.S.

And as they have been doing for more than a month with passengers traveling from Asia, U.S. officials will soon begin handing out these yellow health alert cards. They’ll be given to people coming into the U.S. at Canadian border crossings, or boarding U.S.-bound flights in Toronto.