19 MARCH 2003

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MIA workers would like to see precautions against SARS

- unions to request more information on ‘killer virus’

By Matthew Vella
With reports of more than 150 suspected cases of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), the World Health Organisation’s emergency travel warning has been a source of much anxiety with Malta International Airport workers.
"This syndrome, SARS, is now a world-wide health threat," said WHO Director General Dr Gro Harlem Brundtland, "The world needs to work together to find its cause, cure the sick, and stop its spread."
The exact nature of the infection is still under investigation, and the speed of international travel creates a risk of rapid spread to additional areas.
Air Malta stewards and hostesses have already shown concern about the situation, with the Union of Cabin Crew having already held discussions. USS President Leo Vella told The Malta Financial and Business Times yesterday the union will be asking MIA to provide more information:
"We want to be warned by management of any people on the ground with symptoms pertaining to SARS, or any incoming tourists from high-risk areas. We cannot obviously disallow anyone from travelling, and we certainly don’t want to appear discriminatory in the way we treat our passengers.
"The situation is very delicate and we have to see how the matter develops."
Elsewhere on the ground, incoming tourists are reportedly being screened by health officials at the Malta International Airport, although security staff have already shown concern.
MIA security officials told this newspaper the monitoring of incoming tourists had not been placed in their competence and that MIA health officials were inspecting incoming tourists for any symptoms of SARS.
But news of the disease outbreak in other European cities, namely Frankfurt and London, has caused anxiety amongst MIA ground security. Sources close to this paper said they would soon be consulting MIA management to have protective face masks introduced and to be protected from any contagious disease.
Meanwhile, Union Haddiema Maqghudin Deputy Secretary-General Joe Grillo informed this newspaper that the union had already had talks with MIA management. The company has told UHM that it will soon be taking all necessary precautionary measures to ensure the safety of its workers at the airport.
Since mid-February, WHO had been actively analysing the outbreaks of a severe form of pneumonia in south-east Asia. In Vietnam the outbreak began with a single initial case who was hospitalised for treatment of severe, acute respiratory syndrome of unknown origin. Following his admission to the hospital, approximately 20 hospital staff became sick with similar symptoms.
The most common symptoms of SARS are high fever, muscle aches, headache and sore throat. In some, but not all cases, this is followed by bilateral pneumonia, progressing to acute respiratory distress requiring assisted breathing on a respirator.
The disease is spread from person to person but only through close contact with a case. To date, almost all reported cases have occurred in health workers involved in the direct care of reported cases or in close contacts, such as family members. There is no evidence to date that the disease spreads though casual contact.
The WHO Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network is co-ordinating 11 laboratories in 10 countries to identify the cause and an effective treatment for SARS.
Information on cases compiled over the past three weeks is expected to shed new light on the behaviour of this disease.

Copyright © Newsworks Ltd. Malta.
Editor: Saviour Balzan
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