Chinese doctor brings SARS epidemic experience to help Samoa

A Chinese doctor working at the Tupua Tamasese Meaole Hospital at Moto'otua says working during the SARS epidemic helped to prepare him to face COVID-19, if it arrives in Samoa.

Dr. An Lifeng of the China-Japan Union Hospital of Jilin University is an Otolaryngologist and was young doctor during the SARS epidemic.  He was working at China's northeastern Jilin province when the SARS epidemic broke out.

“I was already a doctor at that time and I worked at a hospital in Jilin province," he said. 

"At the beginning of it, we didn’t know much about this disease and there were a lot of suspected cases but not as much as COVID-19.

“I remember that three medical staff were affected by the SARS virus in the hospital I was working at. I remember it very well, we were all afraid of it and the hospital was very quiet. It would be very quiet every day when I walked into the hospital."

According to Dr. An, many patients did not want to stay in the hospital when word came of confirmed cases in the area. 

Confirmed cases of the SARS virus were treated in isolation wards with doctors working four shifts. All doctors not on duty were isolated in hotel rooms to prevent transmission to their family members.

"The only ones there were the medical staff and those who have confirmed cases of the SARS virus,” he said.

Dr. An also explained that the SARS epidemic introduced "us to Fever Clinics." 

These are facilities that assess, test, treat, and reassure people and triage them through the healthcare system if necessary.

“At the entrance of the hospital, there will be rooms to triage the patient," he explained. 

"First, we measure their temperature at the entrance of the hospital. If the patient has a fever, we take another step and isolate him first and then we send an expert in respiratory diseases and transmission disease to examine and take some samples, x-ray and auscultation to make sure if the fever is caused by lung disease or something else.

“If they are confirmed cases then we quarantine them. At that time there are only several hospitals limited to admit this kind of patient. One patient per room for isolation to treat them.

“We have learned a lot from the SARS epidemic. Early travel advisories, early diagnosis by tests, early reporting, early quarantine, and early treatment is key to cutting off the epidemic's transmission route."

Dr. An further explained that SARS and COVID-19 are similar as they are both one of the "Coronavirus" or what he calls "brothers" but according to him there are differences between the two.

"COVID-19 is an asymptomatic infection meaning the patient can spread the disease before symptoms start to show. SARS patients transmit the disease only when symptoms start to show," he said.

Dr. An is sure that if COVID-19 gets to Samoa, the Chinese Government will send more P.P.E (Personal Protective Equipment) and medical experts to Samoa.

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