The SARS Outbreak: 100 Days Later
Worst of the SARS Outbreak Is over, But What's Next?
June 19, 2003 -- One hundred days after the World Health
Organization (WHO) first alerted the world about a mysterious outbreak of a
pneumonia-like illness, more than 8,400 people have been stricken with the
disease, now known as SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome), and 800 victims
have died. That's the bad news. But health officials say the good news is that
the worst of the SARS outbreak is over, and valuable lessons are emerging that
will allow them to better prepare for the next global disease threat.
"SARS has changed the perception of the infectious disease
threat," said WHO Director General Gro Harlem Brundtland, MD, in addressing
the first WHO Global Conference on SARS held in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, this
week. "As a highly publicized, visible, and greatly feared disease, SARS
has stimulated an emergency response on a scale that has changed public and
political perceptions of the risk posed by all emerging and re-emerging
Within a month after the WHO issued its first health alert on
March 12, which described 55 cases of SARS concentrated in Hong Kong;
Singapore; and Hanoi, Vietnam, the SARS outbreak exploded internationally and
grew to more than 3,000 cases and more than 100 deaths in 20 countries on five
continents. Since then, the SARS outbreak peaked in early May, when more than
200 new cases were being reported daily, and now seems to be dwindling, with
only a handful of cases reported each day for the last several days.
A Global Effort
Officials at the conference say the dramatic reduction in SARS
cases was the result of a monumental effort and cooperation of governments,
health-care staff, and the public.
In fact, SARS' brief history as the first easily transmissible
new disease to strike a globalized society reveals both old-fashioned
vulnerability and modern scientific achievement made possible by international
travel and cooperation:
- Late November 2002 --The first cases of unusual pneumonia (now known to be
SARS) are reported in the Guangdong province of southern China.
- Late February 2003 -- A doctor who treated SARS patients in Guangdong
spends one night in a Hong Kong hotel and infects at least 16 other persons
staying or visiting persons on the same floor.
- March 12, 2003 -- The WHO issues the first global health alert on the SARS
- April 16, 2003 -- A team of international researchers confirms a previously
unknown form of a coronavirus as the cause of SARS.
"Despite the speed at which SARS spread, when we look back
on the past 100 days and track key events in the international response, it is
the speed and sweep of our achievements that is truly remarkable," said
3 Critical Steps in Containing SARS Remain
But there is still a lot of work ahead for researchers before
they can say the threat of SARS is over.