Transcript: Julie Gerberding on Fox News Sunday

Following is a transcribed excerpt from Fox News Sunday, April 27, 2003.

Now, the other top story of the morning, SARS, severe acute respiratory syndrome. The World Health Organization has confirmed more than 5,000 SARS cases and at least 317 deaths in 26 countries. That includes 41 probable cases and roughly 250 suspected infections in the U.S., but no deaths.

The real question: Is SARS a health menace or a panic fanned by media hype? Here with the facts, Dr. Julie Gerberding, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Let's begin with a question: Is this, in fact, overhyped right now?

GERBERDING: I don't think it's overhyped, but we do have some people taking steps that really aren't justified by the situation that we're in right now.

SNOW: Such as?

GERBERDING: Well, for example, wearing masks out on the street, that's just not the way to prevent spread of this illness. And yet people feel the need to do something, so they are inventing some measures that probably aren't really helping.

SNOW: How communicable is it?

GERBERDING: On average, it's not as communicable as, say, influenza. But we do see these situations where a particular person is especially efficient at transmitting it, and the combination of a person like that and unprotected health-care workers can really initiate a cascade of spread.

SNOW: So if somebody is isolated, having the virus, the chances are, we're not going to have the kind of epidemics that people are predicting or they're afraid of?

GERBERDING: I think we know that our containment can work, but we do have to be vigilant about every step in the process. And that means detecting people at the earliest possible moment, right when their symptoms are beginning, and then getting them in the proper airborne precaution environment, where that doesn't get spread to their health-care workers or household contacts.

SNOW: Does that mean they ought to stay at home, or they ought to go to a hospital?

GERBERDING: Well, if they're sick, of course they need to be in the hospital.

In the United States, we have isolated some people in their homes. What we do in a situation like that is also ask the local health authorities to actively monitor the exposed people in that household, to make sure that they are using the appropriate precautions to avoid infection, but also that they too come in and get medical care if they should develop any symptoms at all of SARS.

SNOW: You mentioned the flu earlier. How deadly is SARS compared to the flu?

GERBERDING: It's a little bit hard to make apples and oranges comparisons here. We've got influenza as an established problem, and we have a vaccine, and we have treatment for it. And so we can do things about influenza, but people don't take advantage of that vaccine and often don't get the treatment in time.

With this corona virus infection, we don't have a vaccine, and we don't have treatment. And we are seeing different populations, particularly travelers and health-care workers, afflicted with it.

So it is very difficult to say one is more or less deadly or one is more or less infectious than the other.

SNOW: Give as you sense of what you know so far. The percentage of people who get it, how many, based on the percentages so far, die?

GERBERDING: There is some variability from country to country. But overall, about 6 percent of the people who have probable SARS do die from the infection.

We have people many people around the world right now who are on ventilators or who are critically ill, so you can certainly expect that this death toll is going to increase.

SNOW: So far, no deaths in the United States.

GERBERDING: So far, no confirmed deaths in the United States.

SNOW: What happens when somebody gets it? They go to a hospital. The only thing they can do right now is treat specific symptoms one at a time, correct?

GERBERDING: What we do is what's called supportive care, and that means if the person needs oxygen or ventilation, they get a mechanical respirator. If they need fluids, they get fluids. You know, the usual kinds of supportive care that help people get through the critical phase of the illness.

And if they get through that phase, they certainly can survive. We've seen many very ill people eventually recover. How they'll do in the long run, of course, we're still learning about.

SNOW: The World Health Organization issued a three-week travel advisory for Toronto, Canada. Do you think it overreacted?

GERBERDING: I think the WHO was looking at the situation where there were people with SARS leaving Canada, sort of exporting cases if you will. And they were concerned that that would serve as the mechanism for furthering spread throughout world.

As it turns out, the situation in Canada is one where we recognize where the disease is being spread, and Canadian health officials can predict which groups are most at risk for acquiring or transmitting it.

So the issue is not so much traveling to Canada; it's recognizing exposure, and then not traveling if you've been exposed, leaving the country.

SNOW: But at this point, it is safe to travel to Toronto, in your view?

GERBERDING: In my view, it is. I am planning to go there next week.

SNOW: All right. In addition, the Asian health ministers now have agreed to do a series of tests if somebody has SARS symptoms; they simply don't get out. Is that an effective way of containing the spread?

GERBERDING: Well, I think if we are looking at trying to get a situation where infected people don't leave a country and move it elsewhere in the world, screening at the points of departure is one method to make sure that someone who is actually ill is not getting on a plane and traveling.

Of course, the problem is that most people who have been exposed to SARS and travel are not actually sick, so you're not going to pick them up at the border. They will acquire the infection 10 days later or within the next 10 days. And so, you can miss them if that were the only method you were using.

That's why we have this health alerting process, where we advise incoming travelers from these regions to contact their health official if they have any symptom within 10 days of their arrival.

SNOW: Do you think it ever is going to become necessary or appropriate simply to say to certain countries, "Sorry, we're not going to accept passengers from your country for now?"

GERBERDING: I don't think we're at that point where that's going to be a likely scenario.

SNOW: What are the next health steps that you anticipate being necessary in the United States?

GERBERDING: We need to stay vigilant here. We haven't had the kind of long chains of transmission that we've seen in some other countries, but there is no reason why that couldn't happen here.

So we are putting a high emphasis on early detection. We're putting a high emphasis on having the best possible containment in the health-care facilities, because that's where a lot of the community spread has started.

And we also have asked our state and local health officials to actively monitor exposed people. By that, I mean check in with them every day to make sure that they are not developing early SARS.

SNOW: But again, the transmissibility is probably less than we see when we get these influenza outbreaks each year.

GERBERDING: On average, but again, we do have these highly infectious situations. And, if necessary, we can move, in this country, also to a quarantine system.

SNOW: Do you expect that to happen?

GERBERDING: I don't expect it to happen, but we're prepared to do it if we need to.

SNOW: Dr. Julie Gerberding, thanks for joining us.

GERBERDING: Thank you.