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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

Great post..SARS ultimately became a joke because it killed so few people and caused so much panic but it's nice to know the people that helped turn it into something not so serious.
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SARS was BS. They were lumping all respiratory complaints as SARS at the time. Most of the people who died were elderly just like regular pneumonia. My 87 year old grandma died of pneumonia in Toronto last month. Back then she would have been classed as SARS from the alarmists
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So a year ago a group of Chinese scientists came to talk at our Microbiology Department seminar. Basically, they told us that there are still LOADS of data on the SARS outbreak and the infection itself in university and lab records in Chinese research hospitals. The problem? The gov't has cut all funding of SARS research due to the fact that it was "beaten." When one of our profs said "So the attitude of the gov't is 'Don't worry about it till it starts killing again?'" they just shrugged and didn't argue...

To note is that the scientists that came to speak were accompanied by a rather large entourage of serious gov't-looking types that we were all guessing were there to keep the presenters from saying too much... spilling some secrets or something. It was one of the most uninformative seminars I've ever been to and if there were two words I would use to describe the presenters, they would be "scared" and "desperate." They were scared to say the wrong thing, and they were desperate to find someone to analyze the load of data they collected and based their careers on for those years.

Still, Canada has some data I imagine they are pursuing openly to keep this outbreak from repeating itself.

The good news? This demonstrated that the major powers of the world have strong, effective methods for squashing deadly epidemics before they become pandemics.

I also recently met the man that took part in reviving the 1918 flu, which killed MILLIONS. The research was fascinating!! He argued that should that strain arise again (which it has in partiality), it would seem just like a particularly rough flu season, but not much more. We have very strong ways of treating and controlling these sort of things now.

One more thing, bird flu: Don't worry about it. There are about 25 mutations needed to make it a strong human-human virus, few of which are advantageous to the virus on their own. This makes the chances of it bothering us too much very slim. Should it break out, take a brief at home vacation, but otherwise, don't be thinking "end of the world."
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One more thing, SARS was NO JOKE. I don't know a single virologist (and I know a bunch) who thinks it wasn't serious. Should it have hit a hundred years ago, it would have killed hundreds of millions.
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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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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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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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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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