Skip to content

Lung Disease & Respiratory Health Center

Font Size

Why Does SARS Matter?

Experts Say SARS Reveals the Vulnerability of Global Health

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."

Chinese officials have been criticized for initially withholding information on an outbreak of an atypical pneumonia in the Guangdong province in November 2002. That outbreak is now believed to be the first documented cases of what later became known as SARS.

Fauci says SARS has also prompted a new level international cooperation on both a scientific and political level through the World Health Organization and other international efforts. And he says those lessons will likely pay off in the future in dealing with the next great disease outbreak.

In fact, Gerberding seems to already be taking these lessons to heart. In closing today's briefing on the status of SARS, she urged the public to take precautions against the West Nile virus, because the peak season for disease-carrying mosquitoes is right around the corner.

"Emerging infectious diseases are appearing right and left, and we can't ignore one because we are concentrating on another," says Gerberding.


Today on WebMD

man coughing
You may not even know you have it.
blood clot
Signs of this potentially fatal complication.
man coughing
When a cold becomes bronchitis.
human lungs
Causes behind painful breathing, fluid buildup.

Bronchitis Overview
Copd Myth Fact Quiz
Living With Copd
Energy Boosting Foods

Pollen counts, treatment tips, and more.

It's nothing to sneeze at.

Loading ...

Sending your email...

This feature is temporarily unavailable. Please try again later.


Now check your email account on your mobile phone to download your new app.

cigarette butts snuffed out in ashtray
Healthy Home Health Check
Senior woman stretching
Diagnosing Copd

WebMD Special Sections