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
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
"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
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