Airport SARS screening ‘pointless’

SCREENING passengers for SARS at airports is pointless because of the incubation period for the disease, Aer Rianta has warned.

Spokesman Vincent Wall said airports around the world had resisted a screening policy because it could take up to 10 days for symptoms of the disease to surface.

The warning came as a woman, who was at the centre of a SARS scare in Waterford City, was last night discharged from Waterford Regional Hospital after all tests carried out on her had returned negative.

Mr Wall said part of the problem was that passengers carrying the disease but not showing symptoms would not be detected by a medical check-up at the airport.

“A screening process might not serve any function,” Mr Wall said. “If a decision was taken to provide that sort of detailed screening programme at Dublin airport we wouldn’t be sure what sort of staff would be required and whether they would need medical training.”

Mr Wall said new posters in Mandarin alerting Chinese-speaking travellers to the risk of SARS and its symptoms, were expected for Dublin, Cork and Shannon airports soon. These were recommended by the Department of Health’s expert group on SARS earlier this week.

At present the health alert in airports is only published in English, French and German, despite the fact that most cases of the disease have been in Asia.

All tests carried out on the woman in Waterford Regional Hospital had returned negative, according to a spokesperson for the South Eastern Health Board said

However, doctors will continue to monitor her for a number of days to ensure that she is completely free of the disease.

The woman, who had recently returned from a holiday in Toronto, Canada, went to her GP a few days ago, suffering from SARS-like symptoms. She was admitted to hospital late on Wednesday night.

A Chinese woman who was admitted to Cherry Orchard Hospital in Dublin this week remains a suspected SARS case despite negative results, as there is no definitive test which can confirm the presence of the virus. An Eastern Regional Health Authority spokeswoman said yesterday that her condition “continued to improve”.

In response to growing public concern about SARS, the Health and Safety Authority (HSA) said employees should not be asked by their bosses to visit parts of China, Hong Kong, Vietnam, Singapore and Canada, either for business or pleasure.

HSA director of occupational medical services Dr Dan Murphy said airport and airline staff, as well as marine workers, and any other employees in regular contact with people from infected areas, should ask their employers to update risk assessments for their jobs in the light of the SARS threat.

The HSA also advised that workers coming back to Ireland from infected areas must not return to work if they have developed a fever, or have been in close contact with a known case of SARS. Instead they should immediately contact their GP.

Meanwhile, a Department of Health expert group on SARS will meet with the Special Olympics Organising Committee in the next few days to discuss a strategy involving athletes from affected countries. A final decision is not expected until early next month.

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