Severe acute respiratory syndrome, better known as SARS, is an illness that seems to have been forgotten. This disease is incredibly new in humans; only one epidemic has occurred and the outbreak only lasted for six months. However, 8098 people were infected during this six month window and 774 of these victims died from SARS.
SARS is caused by a coronavirus called SARS-associated coronavirus (SARS-CoV). The virus has high transmissibility and virulence; it can be spread easily via indirect contact as well as direct contact and the virus has a 10% mortality rate. SARS can travel in the air via coughing and sneezing, resulting in indirect transmission. SARS can also be transmitted when one touches a surface that an infected person has also touched.
Symptoms of SARS are very similar to that of the flu. This includes a high fever, fatigue, headaches, and many respiratory issues. The respiratory issues are the most dangerous; breathing difficulties can lead to a lack of oxygen in the blood, which can be fatal. SARS has no cure, nor a vaccine. The only way to prevent SARS is to quarantine those with SARS and stay far away.
Scientists believe that the SARS virus originated from Chinese horseshoe bats. They predicted that the virus jumped from these bats to animals such as civets, which are eaten in China. In 2002, the virus jumped from civet to human and from then on, the virus began to spread from human to human. At first, the disease was identified as a strange form of pneumonia and not much was done. By March of 2003, SARS began to spread very quickly while still remaining a mystery. A global alert was issued.
In the following months, SARS spread incredibly quickly. Transmission occurred from human to human; travelling from country to country accelerated the infection speed of the virus. Travel warnings were issued in China and its surrounding countries and quarantine measures were taken to try to slow the spread of SARS. SARS killed about 1 in 10 of infected individuals and about half of the individuals who died were rather old (65 years or older).
By May of 2003, the United States reported that no new cases of SARS had occurred, which meant that it was contained and controlled. Over the course of the next month, other countries also reported containment of the virus. On July 5, 2003, the World Health Organization declared that SARS had been contained worldwide.
Since this epidemic, SARS had not reappeared on a scale of this size; occasional lab accidents cause a few cases here and there, but due to experience and access information that we did not have in 2003, the virus is quickly quarantined and controlled.
The SARS outbreak burned violently and quickly. In a few short months, it spread worldwide due to technological advancements, allowing for travel via aircraft. This form of globalization demonstrates how diseases can spread further and faster than ever before. Thankfully, emergency measures were taken and this disease was able to be controlled. Unfortunately, the death of many victims could not be avoided. In the future, we should recognize the risk of transmission due to travel and take precautions to prevent the spread of disease in this way.
A map showing SARS cases from the 2003 epidemic. Black numbers show the number of infected and red numbers show the number of fatalities.