Students return from Asia amid SARS scare

David Saenz

The surgical masks just didn’t cut it.

Although many precautions were taken to protect four University students studying in Hong Kong from the deadly SARS virus, a State Department advisory led to their early return home.

The students, enrolled in a Syracuse University program, returned to the United States when Syracuse prematurely terminated the program, explained Lance Kenney, director of International Studies. He indicated that Villanova would have made the same decision if faced with a State Department advisory.

The advisory has also prompted Villanova to cancel its summer program in China.

One University student returned home on Tuesday and three Wednesday.

A situation involving a University of Connecticut undergraduate traveling outside the Uniteds States shows that Syracuse and Villanova did not overreact by canceling programs in Southeast Asia. UConn President Philip E. Austin sent a message to all students “regarding a UConn undergraduate student who may have contracted Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome.”

A Connecticut Department of Public Health advisory described the situation. “During the recent spring break, a student traveling outside the United States was exposed to a person thought to have … SARS,” it said. “Upon returning, the student became ill with cough and fever and, on the morning of March 26 was admitted to a hospital. The student is in fair condition and stable.”

According to Jim Buschman, associate director of Syracuse University Abroad, Villanova students studying in Hong Kong received surgical masks “recommended for protection against respiratory ailments in situations involving crowded areas or public transportation.” They were also advised to consult doctors if they displayed any symptoms of respiratory illness. Syracuse told the students how to contact major hospitals and directed them to monitor websites for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization as well as English-language newspapers and television news. The program directors also discouraged the students from following through with independent travel plans.

Kenney indicated that the University students would not suffer any repercussions from the program’s early termination.

“The courses will be transferred to their academic records like those of every other study abroad participant,” he said.

He emphasized, “No Villanova student will be kept from graduating on time because of these external factors.”

Kenney explained that no other study abroad programs have been cut short during his tenure at the University.

He added, “To the best of my knowledge this is the first time students have been brought home per the advice of the State Department.”

On Wednesday, Rebecca Bramen, director of the Student Health Center, sent an e-mail to all members of the University with the answers to some common questions about SARS.

The e-mail stated, “The viral infection known as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome … is believed to have first appeared near Hong Kong in the winter months and spread quickly to Hong Kong in February.  Severity of the illness varies from mild respiratory symptoms to more severe illness and possibly death.”

It also indicated that students should consult and for more information on the SARS virus.