Lessons of SARS Outweigh Disease Itself
SARS Outbreak Prepared World for Next Major Threat
Oct. 7, 2003 -- Despite the hype, the lessons of the first SARS
outbreak are likely to overshadow the significance of the disease itself,
according to a new report.
Researchers say the SARS outbreak probably received more media
attention than it warranted compared with other, much more prevalent and
potentially dangerous infectious diseases.
But the lessons learned by the health-care community and public
worldwide from the rapidly emerging SARS epidemic may prove invaluable in
future infectious disease outbreaks.
"Malaria, HIV infection, tuberculosis, and a host of other
deadly infections are more devastating than SARS," writes Ezekiel Emanuel,
MD, PhD, of the National Institutes of Health. "However, while it's novelty
focused disproportionate attention on SARS, the attention has been of
Emanuel's report, along with two other articles on SARS,
appears in the Oct. 7 issue of the Annals of Internal Medicine.
As of Sept. 26, the World Health Organization estimates the
toll of the first SARS outbreak at 8,098 cases and 774 deaths worldwide.
In contrast, 5 million people became infected with HIV in 2002,
and approximately 3.1 million died of AIDS worldwide. Malaria affects more than
400 million across the globe each year and causes about 2 million deaths, and
tuberculosis infects about 8 million and kills about 2 million each year.
4 Lessons of SARS
Although SARS affected a relatively small number of people
compared with other infectious diseases, Emanuel says the global response to
the SARS outbreak provided at least four lessons that will have a long-term
impact on health care.
1. The world is better prepared for the next major
pandemic. Health officials fear a repeat of the great influenza pandemic of
1918-1919 that killed between 20 to 40 million worldwide is imminent. By
testing the public health system, SARS highlighted gaps in the infrastructure
that were addressed by officials.
2. Global cooperation is key. Thanks to worldwide
travel, an illness can spread from a small village in rural China within days
and weeks. That means global cooperation among both rich and poor countries is
necessary to contain worldwide epidemics.
3. Medicine is moral. Despite recent trends toward
commercialization and significant risks to their own health, health-care
providers cared for sick SARS patients. This is in contrast to 20 years ago
when some refused to treat early HIV/AIDS patients.
4. Hospitals should ensure worker's safety. Measures to
minimize the risk of infectious disease to health-care workers are effective,
and hospitals and administrators should be prepared to implement them
Researchers say these lessons of the SARS outbreak may help
focus new worldwide attention on the global threat of both longstanding and
emerging infectious disease.
"The novel coronavirus [that causes SARS] is one of the
latest in a series of continually emerging pathogens to challenge our global
society," writes Richard P. Wessel, MD, MSc, and Michael B. Edmond, MD,
MPH, of Virginia Commonwealth University, in an editorial that accompanies the
report. "The critical lessons learned from managing the current SARS
epidemic should be institutionalized as rational preparations for the next