Medical contingency

Posted: Wednesday, April 02, 2003

In just over a month, the first of many cruise ship passengers and crew will arrive in Juneau on a floating petri dish. If you are one of the local residents who contracted the Norwalk virus last year, you probably have considered the potential threat posed to this community by the rapidly spreading severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) virus. The transmission of this virus is still not completely understood, however, it appears to be spread by several means, including contaminated sewage (as suspected in the large outbreak within a Hong Kong apartment dwelling).

Certainly four or five days of close contact with an infected person, such as might occur on a cruise ship, would be enough to spread the disease to potentially a large number of people. Alternately, a discharge of untreated sewage into Southeast Alaska waters might have the potential of spreading the disease to Alaska residents.

At this point, I am merely speculating. But unless the course of this illness changes dramatically for the better before the arrival of the first cruise ship in May, I feel the likelihood of an outbreak in Juneau is not only possible, but probable. I hope the medical community and cruise ship industry are making plans for this contingency. I would like to hear how the local community plans to deal with this situation if speculation becomes reality, since we have a limited infrastructure to deal with this type of event.

Christy Leer


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