NewsMax.com, 3-Apr-2003: The SARS Epidemic: A War on a Different Front, by Barbara Carroll, NewsMax.com.
Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome has become a potential enemy to a world with few weapons or defenses against the tiniest invader – a virus.
The pneumonia-like disease has been reported in 17 countries, including the United States. SARS has now infected more than 2,200 people and killed at least 79.
Among countries with the highest cases of SARS:
China reports 806 cases and 34 deaths.
Hong Kong reports 685 cases and 16 deaths.
Canada reports 160 cases and seven deaths.
Singapore reports 89 cases and two deaths.
No deaths have been attributed to SARS in the U.S., where 69 suspected cases have been reported so far.
Outside Inspectors Finally Enter China
After stonewalling for weeks, China is finally allowing a team from the World Health Organization, including members from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, to inspect hospital records and case histories in the Guangdong area where the virus is thought to have originated.
Chinese Health Minister Zhang Wenkang has said, "Atypical pneumonia can be prevented and cured." Yet there is no reliable cure for this virus, and China's reluctance to join the world's efforts to control the spread of the disease encourages skepticism.
Because of the difficulty of growing this virus in a lab, the CDC is only “90 pecent certain” that it is a mutated corona-type virus, which affects animals and birds like the various flu strains that we battle yearly. Efforts are under way to develop a vaccine, yet there isn't enough data to date for an effective serum. Mutated viruses occur naturally, and there’s no evidence so far that this virus is man-made.
There are suspicious if circumstantial facts about the first well-known case of SARS. A Chinese professor was staying in room 911 in a Hong Kong hotel in February. The man had been treating patients in Guangdong. During his stay in the hotel, he infected at least seven other guests.
But there is nothing reported to date that link him with any group that could be using this as a biological weapon. He died in a Hong Kong hospital after infecting two family members and four hospital workers.
SARS and the Economy
Perhaps the biggest threat SARS poses is economic. The CDC has issued travel advisories for areas where the virus is prevalent: Hong Kong, mainland China, Hanoi, Vietnam and Singapore. It says people planning non-essential travel to those destinations "may wish to postpone their trips until further notice."
Even Sony and Honda, which have plants in the Guangdong area, have banned travel to China.
The economic impact on countries with a high number of infections is already evident in a drastic fall in revenue from tourism and business travel. Hong Kong is experiencing hotel and airline cancellations as panic spreads across the city. Surgical masks and gloves are selling out in stores. City schools are closed until April 21.
Orangutans Protected From People
Panic has spread to the point that in Singapore a television station refuses to tape in front of live studio audience, and a zoo now keeps people away from the orangutans.
Canada Hit Hard
More disturbing from the U.S. point of view is that Canada is high on the list of SARS cases and deaths, with the most cases outside Southeast Asia. Toronto is suffering from the cancellation of a major convention where thousands of cancer specialists were due to meet, and tourism is in freefall with a loss of income estimated at $15 million to $20 million.
The outbreak has emergency rooms overwhelmed in some areas of Canada as every cold and flu symptom brings fear. British Columbia has put aside 300 beds specifically for expected SARS cases.
Symptoms and Treatment
What are your chances of getting SARS, and what are the symptoms?
Within two to 10 days of exposure, an infected person shows cold and/or flu-like symptoms with a fever of 100 degrees or higher. Eventually, pneumonia or pneumonia-like symptoms develop with accompanying cough and shortness of breath. Up to 20 percent of patients are put on respirators.
Treatment includes the drug ribavirin, which has shown promise in Hong Kong but is not being hailed as a cure. SARS victims recover in about a week, and fatalities are relatively low, about 3.5 percent, according to CDC Director Dr. Julie Gerberding.
Anyone suspected of having this virus is quarantined, usually at home. Quarantine is one of the surest methods of containing a contagious disease.
The CDC is concerned that the quick spread of this virus is indicative of an airborne agent, which could be as contagious as the common cold. This means it’s viable on objects such as currency, door handles or drinking glasses. Precautions include washing hands before eating and avoiding being sneezed or coughed on because the airborne droplets may contain the virus.
There’s no conclusive diagnostic test for SARS. A patient’s medical and travel histories are documented. Nasal swabs and chest X-rays are also part of a diagnosis. The highest risk group for catching the disease is hospital and other health workers.
The CDC and WHO now have access to vital clues to a mysterious threat. The world is responding to this enemy quickly.
David L. Heymann, head of WHO’s communicable diseases program, said: “If there's an influenza pandemic, or if there's a deliberate release of a biological weapon, there will be many valuable lessons from this experience. This is really the first time we've attempted something on this scale, and the global community has pulled together."
[ The SARS Epidemic: A War on a Different Front. (NewsMax.com)