Established infectious disease control measures were good enough to contain SARS in the U.S. this year, but a large-scale outbreak could overtax both hospital and workforce capacity, a General Accounting Office official testified. The healthcare system should prepare itself for overcrowding as well as shortages of healthcare workers and medical equipment, particularly respirators, the official said in testimony before a Senate subcommittee. Severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, infected more than 8,000 people in 29 countries and killed 800 people as of July 11, but the virus was contained in the U.S. to 211 possible cases with no related deaths. Of those cases, 175 are classified as "suspect" and 36 as "probable." Based on a study conducted last year, the GAO found that most hospitals lack the capacity to respond to large-scale infectious disease outbreaks. The survey of more than 2,000 hospitals found a wide variation in the availability of medical equipment. Half the hospitals had fewer than six ventilators for every 100 staffed beds. The testimony is available on the GAO Web site, www.gao.gov, under "GAO reports." -- by Cinda Becker
Hospitals not ready for major SARS outbreak: GAO
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