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Lung Disease & Respiratory Health Center

Why Does SARS Matter?

Experts Say SARS Reveals the Vulnerability of Global Health
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SARS Threat May Never Be Completely Over continued...

Gerberding points to the example of Taiwan, where a single SARS-infected traveler is thought to have infected a large number of close contacts and healthcare workers and spurred the epidemic in that country. The ripple effects of similarly effective disease transmitters, known as "superspreaders," continue to be felt in other areas that experienced clusters of SARS outbreaks, such as Hong Kong and Toronto.

That's why Gerberding says SARS will continue to pose a threat to the U.S. as long as the disease is being actively transmitted anywhere in the world.

Speed of SARS Rivaled by Science

At the same time, Fauci says the speed with which researchers were able to isolate and sequence the previously unknown coronavirus that causes SARS demonstrates how far the science of infectious diseases has come. It took years to identify HIV as the causes of AIDS, for example, but now the cause of a newly emerging disease can be sequenced in a matter of days or weeks.

But there is still much work to be done. Tests to screen for SARS quickly and accurately still need to be refined, and research into potential treatments or vaccines is still in the early stages. Laboratories at the U.S. Department of Defense are currently testing all available drugs and even those currently under development by pharmaceutical companies for potential activity against the SARS virus.

Preliminary results show a particular type of antiviral drugs known as interferons, which are commonly used to treat hepatitis C virus infection, might be effective against the SARS virus. But experts say the dosages needed to kill the virus in the test tube may never be feasible in humans. And a vaccine is months if not years away from widespread use.

Lessons of SARS

While the research on SARS is only in its infancy, experts say it's already clear that one of the lasting lessons of SARS may actually be political.

"It teaches us that it's not a good idea for politicians to stonewall about public health threats because you can't fight Mother Nature," says Martin Blaser, MD, chairman of the department of medicine and professor of microbiology at New York University. "The best time to jump on it is early. After it's spread, it's much harder to contain and that's what the situation in China has taught us."

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