Jewish World Review March 31, 2003 / 6 Adar II, 5763

SARS Update

By Robert A. Wascher, M.D., F.A.C.S. | SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) is a viral infection that has recently become a source of concern among public health officials. First identified in Vietnam, cases of SARS have now appeared in China (in Hong Kong and Guangdong province, in particular), Singapore, Indonesia, Canada, Thailand, the Phillipines, and the United States. Approximately another dozen countries have reported possible cases of SARS within the past several days. At the present time, nearly 1600 cases SARS, including 54 deaths, have been reported throughout the world by the WHO and CDC. Although the causative agent of SARS is not fully understood at this time, it appears to be a previously unknown member of the coronavirus family of viruses. Sadly, the Italian physician who first identified SARS in a German businessman under his care in Vietnam has, himself, now died of the disease.

According to the US Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO), the symptoms of SARS include high fever, sore throat, dry cough, shortness of breath, and decreased white blood cell and platelet counts. Other typical symptoms of viral infection may occur with SARS, including headache, muscular pain and stiffness, loss of appetite, malaise, confusion, rashes and diarrhea. The incubation period for SARS appears to be relatively short, ranging from 2 to 7 days following initial exposure. Based upon the rather high prevalence of infections among healthcare personnel, the WHO has indicated that close and sustained contact with infected persons may be necessary to spread SARS. In particular, contact with respiratory droplets from coughs and sneezes, as well as direct contact with bodily secretions, are thought to be important infection vectors. However, recent reports of SARS spread among tenants within apartment buildings in China, and at least one case involving a flight attendant on a Hong Kong-based airline, suggest that the SARS virus may be passed with more casual contact.

The treatment of patients infected with the SARS virus is similar to that recommended for other serious viral respiratory infections, as there are no antibiotics that have any activity against such diseases. The current recommendation is that patients with SARS should be kept in respiratory isolation wards. Supplemental oxygen, inhaled medications to keep the airways clear of secretions and to prevent collapse of small airways, control of excessive fever, intravenous fluids to support blood pressure and vital organs, and, in some cases, mechanical ventilation, are mainstays of supportive treatment.

At the present time, public health officials are not advising prospective travelers to cancel their trips overseas. However, some officials are now suggesting that travel to endemic areas be deferred if possible. Some flight attendants and travelers have taken to wearing surgical face masks in an effort to reduce the risk of inhaling respiratory aerosols from potentially infected persons, although the efficacy of this strategy is uncertain at this time. If you-or anyone you know-has recently developed a severe upper respiratory infection, particularly following travel to one of the countries mentioned above, then medical care should be urgently sought. While there are hundreds of other viruses that can cause the same symptoms as SARS, the virulence of the virus causing SARS seems to approach, at least in some cases, that of strains of influenza that have caused pandemics of severe illness and death in the past.


The CDC announced, on March 25th, an advisory regarding the administration of the smallpox vaccine to people with a history of heart disease. More than 30,000 healthcare workers have recently received the smallpox vaccine as part of recent Homeland Defense initiatives. Among these volunteers, seven have developed cardiac-related complications, although it is presently unknown if these complications are directly related to the vaccine. Among these seven stricken healthcare workers, three have experienced heart attacks (one of which was fatal), two cases of angina (chest pain due to blocked coronary arteries) occurred, and two cases of myopericarditis (inflammation of the heart muscle or the fibrous sac that surrounds the heart) occurred. The CDC is currently studying the medical histories of each of these seven patients, and is carefully evaluating their cardiac disease risk profiles (at least one of these patients was reported to have had an extensive history of preexisting heart disease). While cases of heart inflammation were reported during the period when smallpox vaccine was most extensively administered (in the 1960s and 1970s), no epidemiologic studies were carried out at the time in order to ascertain any causative effect by the vaccine.

As it is currently unclear whether or not the smallpox vaccine, which consists of a live virus that is related to the smallpox virus, is linked to these few cases of cardiac complications, the CDC is being somewhat circumspect in its advisory. The CDC is now recommending that persons with a history of cardiomyopathy, heart attack or angina, or any other evidence of heart disease be temporarily deferred from receiving the smallpox vaccine.


There is growing evidence that the progression of coronary artery disease is influenced by mediators of inflammation. Most recently, C-reactive protein has taken center stage as a key inflammatory protein that appears to play a critical role in the development of coronary atherosclerosis. While coronary artery disease has been linked with inflammation and, in turn, directly with the risk of developing a heart attack, another equally life-threatening cardiac ailment has not previously been associated with inflammation. Congestive heart failure (CHF), which most commonly occurs after a heart attack permanently damages heart muscle, is a common cause of disability and death among older Americans. As its name implies, CHF results when the heart becomes sufficiently damaged so that its ability to pump blood to the body becomes seriously impaired. Patients with CHF may have difficulty breathing due to fluid build-up in their lungs, and often experience debilitating weakness and fatigue as a result of inadequate oxygen delivery throughout their bodies. Swelling of the lower extremities may also cause difficulties for patients with CHF.

A new study in the journal Circulation looks at the potential role of inflammation in patients with CHF who have never had a heart attack before. This study was conducted within the framework of the highly respected Framingham Heart Study, one of the longest running and largest heart study research programs ever undertaken. In this new study, a total of 732 elderly patients who entered the Framingham Heart Study without any prior evidence of CHF or heart attack were followed for an average of 5.2 years. All study volunteers underwent extensive blood tests upon entry into the study, which included assays for known mediators of inflammation, including C-reactive protein, interleukin-6, and tumor necrosis factor-alpha. Among the 732 volunteers, 56 of them subsequently developed CHF-without experiencing any heart attacks-during the course of this study. The study determined that initially elevated levels of any of these inflammatory mediators were significantly correlated with the subsequent development of CHF among the study volunteers. Among patients who had elevations in the blood levels of all three of these markers upon entering the study, the risk of subsequently developing CHF was more than four time higher when compared to other study volunteers without elevated levels of these inflammatory markers. The study's authors concluded that a single measurement of inflammatory markers in the blood was highly predictive of the risk for subsequently developing CHF, even in the absence of heart attacks.


The presence of benign fibrous nodules in the breast, called fibroadenomas, has been linked, in some studies, to a slightly increased risk of developing breast cancer. Other benign breast conditions, including ductal hyperplasia, and even a history of prior breast biopsies for benign lesions, have been statistically associated with small increases in breast cancer risk as well.

A new study in the Archives of Surgery looked at 32 patients with fibroadenomas occurring in the breast at the same time as breast cancer. These patients were compared with 26 control patients who had breast fibroadenomas without the concomitant presence of breast cancer in the same breast. The researchers used several highly sensitive tests to assess both the fibroadenoma tumors and the breast cancer tumors for characteristic genetic mutations associated the development of cancer. The study determined that fibroadenomas of the breast, whether or not they co-existed with breast cancers in the same patient, did not contain any of the genetic mutations commonly identified in the breast cancer tumors. From these results, the authors infer that fibroadenomas are not directly associated with the development of breast cancers. This small study should be repeated with larger numbers of patients to validate its findings. However, these results should provide considerable reassurance to women with benign fibroadenomas of the breast.

JWR contributor Dr. Robert A. Wascher is a senior research fellow in molecular & surgical oncology at the John Wayne Cancer Institute in Santa Monica, CA. Comment by clicking here.


03/10/03: More Data on Hormone Replacement Therapy & the Risk of Breast Cancer; Oral Health & the Risk of Cardiovascular Disease; More Bad News about C-reactive Protein; Update: Daily Multivitamin & Minerals Supplements; Baby Aspirin & the Risk of Colorectal Adenomas; Aspirin & the Risk of Colorectal Polyps

03/03/03: Management of enlarging thyroid nodules; Long-term anticoagulation reduces the risk of recurrent blood clots in the veins; colon polyp recurrence after colonoscopic polyp removal; Vitamins C & E and Atherosclerotic Disease: The Debate Continues

02/24/03: Tamoxifen & Benign Breast Disease; New Recommendation on Digitalis Dosing; Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease & the Nose; Radiologist Experience & Accuracy of Mammogram Interpretation; More Data on the Incidence of GI Side Effects with Selective COX-2 NSAIDs; Regular Rest Breaks & the Risk of Industrial Accidents

02/18/03: Update on Alzheimer's Disease; Very Low Birth-weight Babies & Cognitive Development; The Great Blood Pressure Medication Debate

02/03/03: Update on C-reactive Protein; COX-2 Inhibitors & Arterial Function; COX-2 Inhibitors and Gastrointestinal Complications; Telomere Shortening & Risk of Death

01/24/03: Bo-tox that BO Away!; The Super-sizing of America; Marijuana: A Gateway Drug?

01/21/03: Dietary Soy & Prostate Cancer Risks; Retention of Surgical Foreign Bodies after Surgery; Diet & hormone levels in adolescent girls

01/10/03: Can Aspirin Prevent Esophageal Cancer?; A Drink to Your Health!; Hormones & Breast Cancer; The Impact of Obesity on Lifespan

01/06/03:"The Pill" for Males?; Obesity & Diabetes Trends in the United States; Binge Drinking in the United States; One Less Reason to be Depressed; Liver Failure: Trends

12/20/02: Citrus Pectin & Cancer; Echinacea & the Common Cold; Update on High Blood Pressure Treatment

12/06/02: Calcium Intake & Prostate Cancer Risk; Alcohol Consumption & Risk of Breast Cancer; Reducing Blood Transfusions in Critically Ill Patients

12/06/02: Alcohol, Tamoxifen & Carotid Artery Wall Thickness; Coffee & Gallstones?; Irritable Bowel Syndrome Update; Statins: More Good News

11/22/02:Alcohol, HRT & the risk of breast cancer; hormone replacement therapy: more bad news; new vaccines may eliminate cervical cancer; more

11/15/02: The Effects of Diet & Exercise on Blood Pressure & Health; Growth Hormone & Sex Steroid Supplements & the Elderly; C-Reactive Protein & Cardiovascular Disease Risk

11/08/02: More Good News About Statin Drugs; Hormone replacement Therapy (HRT) & Alzheimer's Disease; A Role for Antibiotics in the Treatment of Vascular Disease?; more

11/01/02: Digoxin & gender; driving & degenerative disc disease; Coenzyme Q10 & Parkinson's Disease; Ginseng & erections; Viagra & stroke

10/25/02: Aspirin & coronary artery bypass surgery; glucosamine sulfate & progression of knee arthritis; hospital nurse staffing & patient mortality

10/18/02: Motor Vehicle Exhaust Pollution & Mortality; CT Scans, C-Reactive Protein & Heart Disease; Antiperspirant Use & the Risk of Breast Cancer; Atomic Bomb Radiation Exposure Update; more

10/04/02: Antioxidants & the Risk of Stomach Cancer; Best Way to Diagnose Appendicitis?; Coronary Artery Disease: Stent or Surgery?

09/27/02: Breast Feeding & the Risk of Asthma; HMOs & Quality of Care Scores; Red Wine & Vascular Disease

09/20/02: Dietary Folate & the Risk of Colorectal Cancer; Risks Associated with Smoking after Heart Attacks; BRCA1 Gene Mutation & the Risk of Breast & Non-breast Cancers; Breast Tissue Density & Inheritance

09/13/02: Dairy Products, Calcium, Vitamin D & the Risk of Breast Cancer; Efficacy of Nonprescription Smoking Cessation Aids; A Nutty Approach to Heart Disease Prevention; Update on Prostate Cancer

09/06/02: C-Reactive Protein & Estrogen Replacement Therapy; Walking Women & Cardiovascular Disease; Physical Activity Among Teenaged Girls

08/30/02: Babbling babies & brain function; homocysteine levels, vitamins & coronary artery disease; St. John's Wort & chemotherapy

08/16/02: A New Weapon Against Anthrax?; cataracts & motor vehicle accidents; gingko biloba takes a hit; air pollution & heart function during exercise; breast cancer genes & the estimated risk of breast cancer

08/09/02: Botulinum Toxin & Post-Stroke Spasticity; Intestinal Hormone Kills Appetite; Bone Marrow Cells Improve Blood Flow in Vascular Disease; Effectiveness of Restraining Orders on Domestic Violence

08/02/02: Mammography Saves Lives!; Obesity & the Risk of Heart Failure; High Sugar Diets & the Risk of Colon Cancer; Abuse During Childhood & Possible Effects of Genes on Antisocial Behaviors

07/26/02: Cancer: Nature vs. Nurture; Cardiorespiratory Fitness & Inflammation; Kidney Transplants from Cadaver Donors; Aircraft Cabin Air Recirculation & the Common Cold

07/19/02: PCBs & the Gender of Babies; Breastfeeding & the Risk of Breast Cancer; More Bad News About Hormone replacement Therapy

07/12/02: A cancer surgeon's perspective on hormone replacement therapy

07/08/02: Hormone replacement therapy & the risk of disease; more good news about statins; antioxidant vitamins & disease prevention; more

06/28/02: Antioxidants & the Risk of Alzheimer's Disease; Effects of Exercise on the Hearts of Patients with Mild Hypertension; Statins reduce cardiac events following angioplasty; more

06/21/02: Sex & violence and Advertising: Do Advertisers Get What they Pay For?; Don't Drink the Water (or the Salsa Either!); Vasectomy & Prostate Cancer Risk; Update on Smoking & Disease

06/14/02: Young Men, Obesity & Heart Disease; Breastfeeding & Obesity; Irritable Bowel Syndrome & rectal pain threshold; more data on cox-2 inhibitors & cancer; more

06/07/02: New coronary artery stent reduces risk of restenosis; possible cause of Parkinson's Disease identified; more

05/31/02: New biological insights into obesity & weight loss; broccoli kills cancer-causing stomach bug; anti-inflammatory drugs and the risk of heart attack

05/24/02: Molecular detection of tumor cells in the blood & prognosis; Cox-2 & breast/lung cancers; BRCA2 gene mutations & the risk of breast cancer; breast density & the risk of breast cancer

05/19/02: Moderate alcohol intake and blood sugar levels; more good news for tea drinkers; blood potassium levels & the risk of cardiovascular disease; ethnic differences in diabetic complications

05/10/02: Tea drinkers and the risk of death following heart attack; duration of breastfeeding & adult intelligence; abdominal aortic aneurysms: surgery or observation?

05/03/02: Risk of adverse drug reactions from newly released medications; preoperative beta-blockers may reduce heart bypass deaths; shape-shifting plastics may alter surgical practice; weight loss supplement may cause liver damage
04/26/02: Angry young men & risk of premature cardiovascular disease; stay-at-home dads & risk of cardiovascular disease; more on the effects of statins; dairy consumption and the risk of pre-diabetes; smallpox vaccine: good to the last drop?
04/19/02: Change your sex by drinking water?; Anti-inflammatory RXs may reduce growth of breast cancer cells; radiation treatment reduces repeat narrowing of bypass grafts
04/05/02: Fish & Omega-3 fatty acid consumption and cardiac health; news briefs
04/05/02: Can coffee reduce your risk of tooth decay?; exercise & blood pressure; a single high-fat meal reduces coronary artery function
04/01/02: Pre-diabetes: a newly defined category of health risk; teen television viewing and subsequent aggressive behavior; the benefits of strength training in the elderly; more ...
03/22/02: Bacteria, antibiotics & heart disease; mammograms: the debate continues; calcium & the risk of colon cancer ... and more
03/15/02: Mammography debate continues; statins & fracture risk; physical fitness & the risk of death; other intriguing findings
03/08/02: Blows to the chest & sudden cardiac death; air quality & the risk of lung cancer; tomatoes and your prostate
03/01/02: Diet & the risk of ovarian cancer; lifetime risk of developing high blood pressure; Osteoporosis prevention with a once-a-year injection?
02/26/02: The continuing controversy regarding screening mammography
02/22/02: Lowering body temperature after heart attack improves outcome; A silver lining for the chronically sleep-deprived?
02/15/02: Hormone replacement therapy & the risk of breast cancer; use it or lose it: Alzheimer's disease & cognitive stimulation; stress, divorce & death; child daycare, infections & parental guilt
02/08/02: Possible breakthrough in early cancer diagnosis; mammography: the controversy continues; CPR techniques revisited
02/01/02: Antibiotics in livestock feed & human disease; genetic detection of early colon cancer in the stool; genetic analysis of breast cancers may help decide treatment
01/25/02: Drug increases lifespan (if you're a fly...); workplace attitudes and smoking cessation; effects of inadequate sleep on surgeons
01/18/02: Lifelong effects of premature birth; smokers under the knife; aspirin and cardiovascular health
01/11/02: Estrogen levels in the blood & breast cancer risk; Heart attack: sex and survival; dangerous lettuce invaders
01/09/02: Cancer & aging: Two sides of the same coin?
01/04/02: Vitamin a & the risk of hip fracture in postmenopausal women; ovarian cancer risk and oral contraceptives
12/28/01: Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) detects coronary artery disease; new development in obesity research; adverse childhood experiences & the risk of suicide attempts
12/21/01: Vaccination of children controls hepatitis a in the community; a possible cure for sickle cell disease; leptin and the risk of heart attacks
12/14/01: Chernobyl and the Risk of Thyroid Cancer in hildren; children & obesity; gastroesophageal reflux disease update
12/07/01: Update on school shootings; new implantable heart-assist device approved for further evaluation; prevention of fungal infections in pre-term babies
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11/02/01: Making sense of bio-warfare
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10/19/01: New insights into autism; the wiley appendix
10/12/01: More bad news about obesity links to other diseases…Hey dad, can I borrow the car keys?
10/05/01: California leads nation in reduction of tobacco-related disease; exercise as an antidepressant?
09/25/01: Advances in the detection of breast cancer; primary care physician awareness of peripheral arterial disease; arsenic in the water
09/17/01: In perspective
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09/05/01: English milk cows prefer Beethoven and Simon & Garfunkel over Bananarama; new prostate cancer prevention study: looking for a few good men; exercise & diet can help prevent diabetes
08/28/01: Arthritis drugs may be linked with increased risk of heart disease; errors in blood clotting tests can be fatal; infant soy formula not associated with reproductive side effects

© 2002, Dr. Robert A. Wascher