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SARS: Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome

The world eagerly watched as a deadly new disease known generally by its acronym gripped many parts of the planet.  SARS, which stands for Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome had caused severe outbreaks from February to June 2003, which lead to the infection of over 8,000 people and the deaths of 775 people in thirty countries.  Mainland China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Canada, and Singapore were the most affected countries.  

Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) is an atypical form of pneumonia.  In April 2003, scientists found the cause of the then-mysterious disease.  SARS is caused by a virus that is classified under the Virus Family Coronaviridae.  Symptoms of SARS usually appear 2-14 days following exposure.  In most cases, symptoms appear 2-3 days after exposure.  The only symptom that was found to be common to all patients is a fever of above 38oC.  Other symptoms are flu-like and include muscle pain, lethargy, gastrointestinal pains, cough, sore throat and other non-specific symptoms.  Complications occur when respiratory function is breached resulting in shortness of breath and even death.  About 10–20% of all SARS cases require mechanical ventilation.

Transmission of SARS is believed to occur by inhalation of droplets expelled by an infected person when coughing or sneezing, or possibly via contact with secretions on objects.  Some health investigators speculate that the SARS virus may be airborne, increasing the potential contagiousness of the disease.

SARS is believed to first originate from Guangdong province, China in November 2002 when people began being hospitalized for respiratory of unknown causes.  Many deaths had occurred but the Chinese government restricted coverage of the epidemic in order to preserve face and public confidence.  When it became evident that Chinese officials could not contain and control the epidemic, they notified the World Health Organization (WHO) of 305 cases of atypical pneumonia in February, 2003.     

Around the same time, similar atypical pneumonia cases began appearing in Vietnam.  WHO officer Carlo Urbani, M.D. examines the unusual outbreak and coins the term SARS.  Tragically, Urbani would succumb to the disease after being exposed to it.  In March 2003, SARS cases were reported in Singapore, Canada, Hong Kong, and the United States.  The spread of the disease to other countries were from infected travelers. 

Strong international efforts to control the world pandemic began which involved stringent regulations overseeing the quarantining of suspected people who may have been exposed to the virus.  Travel restrictions were imposed on SARS-affected countries like China, Hong Kong, and Canada.  The last case of SARS occurred in June 2003.  When everything was said and done, there were 8,069 cases of SARS and 775 deaths.  China was the hardest hit area with 348 deaths, then Hong Kong with 299 deaths, followed by Taiwan and China where 47 and 38 people died respectively. 

At the time, SARS was a medical phenomenon, a disease that no one knew anything about.  Although the research community still states that they still don’t know a lot of the disease or the SARS virus, great strides has been made in understanding the nature of the disease, with research efforts still strongly going.  With strong strategic international efforts, the pandemic was controlled in a matter of months.

SARS experts are quick to say that, although currently controlled, SARS may rear its ugly head in the future.  For example, in late 2003 and early 2004, more cases of individuals infected with SARS were reported in China, although there were no mortalities. 

If you’re interested about this notorious disease and the virus that causes it, then you have come to the right site.  SARS, its history, the SARS virus, health and economic impacts, control measures, and other topics associated with the disease will be comprehensively explored.