Question of the Week

March 31, 2003

Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) has captivated the health community. Doctors all over the world are working to find the exact cause, and a possible cure, to this disease. With current technology, doctors are able to work together, sharing information almost immediately with those thousands of miles away. The media and the public are also being updated frequently. What have we learned since February?

"On February 11, the Chinese Ministry of Health notified WHO that 305 cases of acute respiratory syndrome of unknown etiology had occurred in six municipalities in Guangdong province in southern China during November 16, 2002--February 9, 2003. The disease was characterized by transmission to health-care workers and household contacts; five deaths were reported..."

March 15, 2003:
"Hundreds of people in Vietnam, Hong Kong and mainland China, many of them hospital workers, have come down with a mysterious respiratory illness that has killed at least six people and left most of the others with severe breathing difficulties from which they have not yet fully recovered, officials of the World Health Organization said yesterday. The illness has also been reported in Canada. Even the most sophisticated tests by leading laboratories in four countries have failed to find a cause, the officials said. Nor is the illness responding to antiviral or antibiotic drugs. The health organization, a unit of the United Nations based in Geneva, has issued its first global alert in 10 years, advising health officials of the illness and asking them to report new cases."

"As of March 19, WHO has received reports of 264 patients from 11 countries with suspected and probable* SARS (Table). Areas with reported local transmission include Hong Kong and Guangdong province, China; Hanoi, Vietnam; and Singapore. More limited transmission has been reported in Taipei, Taiwan, and Toronto, Canada. The initial cases reported in Singapore, Taiwan, and Toronto were among persons who all had traveled to China."

"27 March 2003
WHO is today recommending new measures, related to international travel, aimed at reducing the risk of further international spread of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS). The recommended measures include screening of air passengers departing from a small number of affected areas on flights to another country. The affected areas, where transmission of the SARS infectious agent is known to be spreading in a human-to-human chain, are kept under constant review and posted each day on the WHO web site....Most cases continue to occur in persons in close face-to-face contact with SARS patients. Close face-to-face contact could conceivably occur in an aircraft among persons seated close to a person infected with SARS and coughing or sneezing."

March 31, 2003:
"As of today, a cumulative total of 1622 cases, with 58 deaths, have been reported from 13 countries. This represents an increase of 72 cases and 4 deaths since the last figures were compiled on Saturday....Since global surveillance of SARS began at the end of February, some evidence suggests that a small number of suspected and probable cases of SARS have departed from the small number of affected countries on flights to other countries."

While some might consider it astonishing that this disease has been contained as well as it has, while we have learned so much so quickly, others--who have come to expect instantaneous results from our immediate society--may be frustrated that so many have become infected, and so little is still known.

Yes, we now have "the answers" to many of the medical problems that have plagued the world, but there is still so much we do not know. Let's go back to March 22, 2003--just a little more than a week ago:

"Close collaboration, with findings shared daily in teleconferences and by email, has allowed advances that normally need months to take place in a matter of days. 'This spectacular achievement is an example of what the world can do when the intellectual resources of nations around the world are focused on a single problem,' says Klaus Stöhr, a WHO virologist who is coordinating the global laboratory network. 'Scientists who are by default academic competitors are now working virtually shoulder to shoulder. In less than a week, they have produced results which, in other circumstances, would likely have taken months or more....'"

Questions of the Week:
The international medical community has come together to isolate and research this new disease. What advantages and disadvantages would there be for the medical community and the general public if more diseases were handled this way? Why do you think the medical community is handling SARS differently than other potentially fatal diseases?

Please email me with any ideas or suggestions.
Note: Due to increasing amounts of SPAM sent to this account, please include "QOW" in the subject line whe I look forward to reading what you have to say.
Thank you,

[email protected]
Health Community Coordinator
Access Excellence @ the National Health Museum

P.S. "SARS, an atypical pneumonia of unknown aetiology, was recognized at the end of February 2003." The current Question of the Week focuses on the handling of SARS by the medical community. If you are interested in the most current information, or the history of this disease, The World Health Organization (WHO) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have both set up sites with numerous links that are kept current as more is learned.
The World Health Organization
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

If you need help gaining information about other aspects of this international health concern, please contact me.

Request Question of the Week by email 
QoW Archives: 9/2002 - 8/2003 9/2003 - 8/2004 9/2004 - 8/2005 9/2005 - 8/2006 9/2006 - present

Custom Search on the AE Site