Ability to control SARS not known

Boynton Health Service has been preparing for SARS since the virus surfaced last winter.

Geoffrey Ziezulewicz

As cold weather arrives and flu viruses flourish, lack of funding might hurt hospitals’ ability to contain a potential re-emergence of SARS, University and state health officials said this week.

“I have very little doubt in my mind that SARS will be back,” said Dr. Michael Osterholm, director of the University’s Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy.

However, he said plans to combat SARS, released by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention outlined Sept. 26 will not be effective unless hospitals receive adequate resources and funding.

Hospitals will not be able to isolate potential outbreaks, he said.

“It’s like asking your car to go a thousand miles on a tank of gas,” Osterholm said.

SARS will probably recur annually, like West Nile virus, he said.

“As long as we are on the face of the earth, we’ll be dealing with SARS,” Osterholm said.

Dr. Harry Hull, an epidemiologist for the Minnesota Department of Health, said the task of outfitting every hospital in Minnesota dwarfs the available funds.

“The amount of money is in the millions, but when you look at the number of hospitals where it has to be done, it is insufficient,” Hull said.

Boynton Health Service has been preparing for SARS since the virus first appeared last winter, said Dr. Edward Ehlinger, director and chief health officer for Boynton.

Ehlinger said Boynton has made many adjustments, such as secure isolation rooms for infected patients and staff training. Boynton has also been in contact with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the state Health Department, he said.

But Boynton will have to draw from existing budgets and staff to contain a SARS outbreak at the University, Ehlinger said.

“It doesn’t look like there are going to be any more funds coming that I am aware of,” he said.

He said this lack of funds will ultimately take away from patient treatment and ideal SARS containment. Staff will move around and less-essential services eliminated in the event of a SARS outbreak.