SARSSARS, or severe acute respiratory syndrome, comes from a coronavirus. Symptoms center around the respiratory system can lead to severe breathing problems if the patient goes without treatment. Here are ten facts about SARS:

  1. The first widespread case occurred in late 2002 in the Guangdong Province of the Republic of China. The delayed health response led to a global spread of the disease on par with the Ebola epidemic of 2014. The final statistic from WHO showed over 8,000 reported illnesses and more than 700 deaths.
  2. The disease was hard to diagnose due to its irregularity and similarity to pneumonia. Until 2000, cases of SARS were considered rare. Therefore, medical treatment of the virus was scarce, especially in developing countries where the spread happened fastest.
  3. Of the 194 countries that are the Member States of WHO, only 64 of them have efficient alert and response plans for unusual and rare disease outbreaks.
  4. The disease might have originated in animals. A report from the WHO Regional Office for the Western Pacific Region showed that “the palm civet in southern China may have played a crucial role in this respect and that the close relationship between animals and humans seems to have been a likely precondition for the virus to jump the species barrier.” A solution to preventing the initial infection of humans with SARS is to halt unhygienic veterinary and animal husbandry practices that are common in these areas.
  5. In Singapore, 76 percent of infections occurred in a healthcare facility. Additionally, SARS infected 42 percent of those were health care workers; 49 nurses, 13 physicians and 22 other specialists. Among the healthcare workers, there were no cases among laboratory workers or pathologists.
  6. The source of the Taiwanese outbreak was a 42-year-old laundry worker in a hospital who continued to work despite showing symptoms of SARS. It took 6 days for professionals to diagnose SARS.
  7. The epidemic in Taiwan was mainly due to the health care system’s poorly-executed response.
  8. In October 2012, the National Select Agent Registry added the SARS-associated CoV to its repertoire. The Registry handles the regulation and possession of bacteria, viruses and toxins that pose a potential threat to the public. The addition of the virus to this list ensures maintenance of a national database as well as inspections of objects that may possess, use or transfer SARS-CoV.
  9. SARS is no longer a large-scale threat, due to the global response and the willingness of countries to share their medical information with other countries to quickly control and eradicate the virus.
  10. Future outbreaks are still possible, since the virus lives in wild bats and civets. Fortunately, since the end of the epidemics in 2004, there have been no reports of human cases.

SARS is no longer an imminent health concern, but reflecting on this outbreak can help prevent the spread of another viral outbreak like this. Training medical facilities in how to handle highly infectious diseases like SARS and open communication between health professionals around the globe is key to preventing the spread of such diseases.

Taylor Elgarten

Photo: Google

For many of us in the developed world, places like Swaziland or South Africa seem so far off that the problems they face fall to the wayside of our own concerns. In today’s world, fraught with distractions, it is increasingly difficult to inform people that issues facing even the most remote corner of the globe bear the possibility of becoming our own concerns, especially when it comes to public health.

Every year concerns are raised about West Nile Virus, and it is not difficult to understand why. In less than a generation, the virus had made its way from the Nile all the way to California. Although only those with specific genetic predispositions are susceptible to the disease, even the slightest change in the global climate is a boon to the disease.

Similarly, in 2003, the global health community went into panic at the prospect of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) becoming a pandemic. Overnight, airports around the world transformed into what looked like surgical conventions.

While each new disease understandably has its time in the limelight, one in particular remains a constant source of illness in some areas and an ever-postured threat in others.

In the United States, the Center for Disease Control estimates that each year 50,000 people are infected with HIV. Moreover, the CDC estimates that, of the one million people living with HIV/AIDS, a fifth are unaware that they have the disease. In countries such as the United States, a mark of development is the ability to adequately quell the spread of disease. Through education, treatment, and preventative measures, HIV/AIDS has not reached the heights of its potential.

In developing nations, particularly those of sub-Saharan Africa, the story is much more bleak. UN Secretary General Kofi Annan famously declared that between 1999 and 2000, more Africans died as a result of HIV/AIDS than from all of the wars on the continent combined.

Without adequate education, sufficient intervention is made nearly impossible. When Pope Benedict XVI traveled to sub-Saharan Africa in 2009 and publicly decried the use of condoms, global health officials were sent into frenzy. With 22 million infected, dissuading the use of condoms greatly inhibits efforts to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS in Africa.

With clear indications of the dampening effect education has on the spread of disease, many are compelling global health organizations to shift the brunt of their resources toward education in the sub-Saharan region. A study conducted by Pennsylvania State University found that through formal education, residents in Sub-Saharan Africa are able to make cognizant decisions about the disease.

In a recent release, the researchers explained that “more educated people have the cognitive tools to make better sense out of facts presented to them. We have shown that when there is sufficient information, and no misinformation, people with education adopt healthy strategies to avoid infections.” While global health organizations are doing compelling work with the disease, the researchers at Penn State believe they are simply treating the symptoms rather than the disease itself. “The kind of information being supplied by NGOs is scandalous because it is so simplistic and minimalist, particularly for low-educated people, that they are not going to figure this disease out in time to prevent their own infection.”

The rate of HIV/AIDS in Africa will remain a source of concern for even the most developed nations in the world into the foreseeable future.

– Thomas van der List 

Sources: NCBI,, National Academy of Sciences, The Guardian, Penn State
Photo: Made4LLCom