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SARS: Will It Be Different in the United States?

by Sam P. Giordano, MBA, RRT, FAARC
AARC Executive Director

As I write this column, there are many concerns in health care and in the geopolitical situation. Coalition forces are just outside Baghdad, and severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) is spreading throughout the world.

First, I want to acknowledge my support for the respiratory therapists and their comrades who are deployed in the gulf in harm’s way. Regardless of how you may feel about the war, please endeavor to show your support for the people who have to fight this war.

Now to SARS
What little we know about the disease includes the fact that it’s easily spread, especially among health care workers. Many of the countries that have experienced more severe outbreaks than the United States do not have the benefit of respiratory therapists, and there was a time in this country when our nation’s health care system did not have that benefit as well.

One of the reasons the respiratory therapy profession was created was to address the burgeoning problem of nosocomial infections. Our focus on contamination between and among patients and caregivers positions us to provide assistance in the United States within the context of treating patients diagnosed with contagious diseases that can be transmitted through airborne media. We have been aware that contaminated droplets can settle on equipment, telephones, and other fixtures within range of a coughing patient.

RTs are role models
What can respiratory therapists do to minimize the spread of SARS? First, we can become role models for our colleagues, providing care to both patients diagnosed with SARS and other patients with infectious pulmonary diseases. Pulmonary diseases are our stock in trade. As such, we must provide not only leadership in treating these patients but also leadership in avoiding cross-contamination because of these patients. Most therapists think of this on a daily basis simply because they encounter the potential for the spread of pulmonary diseases on a daily basis.

Of course, I realize that SARS can be spread outside of our medical system; but then again, we know what to do to prevent the spread of that disease.

This may present an opportunity to offer guidance to consumers. SARS is sometimes not well understood by the public in general. We can help by providing briefings to PTA, school district leaders, and at-risk populations such as seniors. We know about hand washing. We know how to wipe down equipment and fixtures, and we certainly know how to be in proximity to a contagious pulmonary patient without becoming ill. These are skills that RTs have honed over the years.

SARS provides an opportunity to help the public, outpatients, and our colleagues on the health care team. It also provides an opportunity to engage our communities, which will result in a heightened awareness of what consumers can do to minimize their risk as a public health service.

I realize that there is a great deal that has been published about SARS; but to many members of the public at large, it’s still Greek to them. I urge you to look for opportunities to help by offering your expertise when and where needed.

In closing, I want to mention that since production schedules require that this column be written weeks in advance, I hope that by the time you read this, the spread of SARS has been halted and effective treatment has been identified. I also want to urge you to undertake every precaution to protect yourselves. Because of you, I believe that the incidence of SARS will not rise to the same level as in the countries that do not have the benefits of respiratory therapists.

Sam Giordano can be reached at (972) 243-2272 or giordano@aarc.org.

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