The Heroes of SARS

Remember SARS? Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome exploded out of China in early 2003 and frightened the entire world. Over 8,000 people were infected, and nearly 800 died. The epidemic was over by the summer, thanks to coordinated efforts by the World Health Organization (WHO), doctors who risked their lives to treat patients, and a military doctor who defied his government to break the Chinese policy of secrecy about the disease. Pictured is Dr. Carlo Urbani, an Italian epidemiologist who ultimately died of SARS. Read the entire story at Damn Interesting. Link

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I worked for a company that did the removal of bodies with SARS. It sucked since technically a person who had been in an infected hospital or area, was not suppose to go to another hospital. Since there was so few of us to do the actual removals, we had to lie about where we had been. No one else would do the job! Btw, I never got ill, nor did anyone I worked with. I did catch the Norwalk virus though. That was fun!
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I read a news article about a CDC scientist who was asked to go to China during the SARS outbreak, to help identify the virus. He suspected that a new pandemic was in the making, and feared that he would not return. Before he left, he gave his wife instructions to monitor the news reports, and to go to their cabin in the mountains if his fears were correct. She was to stay there and have no physical contact with other people until it ran its course.

The thing about this story that struck me was that the scientist had no official obligation to go to China. The trip was, in some ways, a professional courtesy to colleagues who needed his expertise to help isolate and identify the pathogen. He felt that, in spite of the risk, he had a humanitarian obligation to provide any assistance that could reduce the impact of the disease; even if it would cost him his life.

I greatly admire this person, whose sense of responsibility extends beyond political and personal borders.
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In the words of Dwight Schrute:

Why are all these people here? There's too many people on this earth. We need a new plague...
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If the 1918 influenza came back, I'd expect a much lower death rate due to natural selection. People who are alive today tend to have ancestors who survived that particular strain. Newly mutated viruses would presumably be more dangerous than ones to which humans might have some acquired immunity.
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