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Lung Disease & Respiratory Health Center

Lessons of SARS Outweigh Disease Itself

SARS Outbreak Prepared World for Next Major Threat
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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 incalculable value."

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.

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