U.S., World Health Officials Testify on SARS Outbreak in Senate HELP Committee Hearing
Cooperation at local, national and international levels has helped slow the spread of the illness known as severe acute respiratory syndrome, but officials still must be prepared to address more cases of the unidentified illness as they occur, health officials from the United States and the World Health Organization yesterday said in Senate testimony, the Los Angeles Times reports. CDC Director Dr. Julie Gerberding told the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee that the agency's rapid SARS response has been facilitated by recent preparations made to combat potential bioterrorist attacks, adding, "Investments made in response to anthrax and bioterrorism have really paid off." Dr. David Heymann, executive director of the WHO's Communicable Disease Program, said, "We believe we will be able to contain the epidemic." However, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the NIH's National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, noted, "We're still in an evolving epidemic, so it is folly to predict where it's going to go" (Kemper, Los Angeles Times, 4/8). Gerberding said the CDC is reviewing plans to deal with a "super-flu pandemic" in the event that an outbreak might warrant the closure of schools or hospitals, Knight Ridder/San Jose Mercury News reports. However, she added that the United States is "not at a point where we're anywhere near that." Officials are focusing on developing a vaccine or a drug treatment for the illness, which researchers suspect is caused by a strain of the coronavirus, a cause of the common cold, Knight Ridder/Mercury News reports (Borenstein, Knight Ridder/San Jose Mercury News, 4/7). Gerberding said three tests are being developed to confirm SARS diagnoses, but they will not be available for a few weeks, the Wall Street Journal reports (Abboud, Wall Street Journal, 4/8).
Last Thursday, the Senate approved an additional $16 million in an amendment to the fiscal year 2003 supplemental appropriations bill to fund CDC research about SARS and to assist local health departments (California Healthline, 4/7). Fauci said that drug treatments to combat SARS likely would be available before a vaccine (Knight Ridder/San Jose Mercury News, 4/7). The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports that a vaccine could be ready for testing within a year, but clinical trials on human subjects could take several years (McKenna/Nesmith, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 4/8). Senate HELP Committee Chair Judd Gregg (R-N.H.) "expressed concern" about the ability of researchers to produce vaccines for emerging diseases, the Washington Times reports (Fagan, Washington Times, 4/8). Meanwhile, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) is expected to introduce legislation to set air quality standards for airplane and jet cabins, the San Jose Mercury News reports. Although "most modern commercial airliners" have systems designed to filter bacteria and viruses, Feinstein said setting air standards would "give air passengers a peace of mind" from fears about the spread of SARS (San Jose Mercury News, 4/8). PBS' "NewsHour with Jim Lehrer" yesterday included an interview with Gerberding and Fauci about their testimony before the Senate committee on the spread of SARS and how the U.S. health care system is responding (Suarez, "NewsHour with Jim Lehrer," PBS, 4/7). The full transcript of the interview is available online. In addition, the full segment is available in RealPlayer online.This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.