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Health in brief

Airlines advised to screen for SARS

Compiled from Times wires

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 28, 2003


In its first warning that suggests a deadly flulike illness can be spread on airplanes, the World Health Organization said Thursday that passengers with symptoms of the disease or who may have been exposed to it shouldn't be allowed to fly.

Airlines serving cities where the mystery disease is spreading should question passengers for signs of severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, the global health agency said.

"If the passengers are sick, health workers will be recommending to the airline that they not board the plane," said Dr. David Heymann, WHO's infectious diseases chief.

The WHO advice is directed at flights leaving cities where the disease is spreading locally: Toronto; Singapore; Hanoi, Vietnam; Hong Kong; Taiwan; and Beijing, Shanghai and the Chinese province of Guangdong, where the earliest cases of SARS occurred.

While suspected cases have been reported in more than a dozen countries, the illness is not considered to be spreading in most communities. The WHO says 1,408 people have fallen ill with SARS and 53 people have died; that doesn't include a death Thursday that Hong Kong officials reported.

The death rate has remained about 4 percent, experts said. There have been three deaths in Canada and none in the United States.

In Hong Kong, where at least 10 people have died, the government said Thursday it would quarantine more than 1,000 people and close its schools. Weekend concerts by the Rolling Stones were postponed.

In Ontario, Canada's most populous province, health authorities declared a state of emergency and called for a 10-day quarantine of people who had visited a hospital where the outbreak spread.

The number of people under quarantine could be "in the thousands," said Dr. Sheela Basrur, Toronto's medical officer of health.

Malpractice legislation loses support

WASHINGTON -- Sen. Dianne Feinstein has dropped efforts for now to arrange a compromise on medical malpractice legislation, citing opposition from physicians pushing for limits on jury awards.

Feinstein, D-Calif., had been working with Republican leaders on a compromise that would double the $250,000 cap on noneconomic damages that is included in the House-passed legislation. The damages include compensation for injuries such as the loss of a limb or of sight.

Doctors have supported the House legislation, but many senators balked at the cap on jury awards. Feinstein hoped the compromise, with its increased cap, could win enough Democratic votes to pass.

"I continue to believe in the importance of medical malpractice insurance liability reform," Feinstein said Thursday. But she said the compromise "is not being supported by the major medical associations."

The American Medical Association, which represents physicians, denied opposing the proposal.

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