Severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) is caused by a coronavirus; initial symptoms are lethargy, generalized aches and fever followed by cough, shortness of breath and occasionally diarrhea. The virus is known to be transmitted by droplets of body fluids when the infected individual coughs or sneezes. It is also thought to possibly be transmitted via contact. The virus is known to survive for up to 3 hours after contaminated droplets have dried. Live virus has also been found in the stool of infected individuals and can live in stool for up to 4 days. (McIntosh & Perlman, 2009) Symptoms have been noted to begin 2-10 days after exposure. Complications of SARS have been noted to be possible, respiratory failure, liver failure or heart failure. Many individuals required to have breathing assistance due to the severity of the effects to the respiratory system. The death rate of infected patients was reported as 9 to 12 %. Those infected patients over the age of 65 had a death rate of higher than 50%. The earliest known cases of SARS are believed to have originated in southern China. Around November 2002, there was noted to be an unusually high number of cases of an atypical pneumonia in the Guangdong Province of southern China, where it was also noted to have a high rate of transmission to healthcare workers.
The most impressive highlight of the virility of this infection is the fact that 138 patients were hospitalized with confirmed SARS within 2 weeks of having been in contact with a single known infected person in Hong Kong. (Lee, Hui, & Wu, 2003) Carlo Urbani, a World Health Organization (WHO) epidemiologist stationed in Vietnam, alerted the global health community at the end of February 2003 to the virulent transmitability of an aggressive and deadly atypical form of pneumonia. By the end of March 2003 he had succumbed to the effects of SARS. From the first notifications to the World Health Organization and the CDC at the beginning of 2003 and when the virus was officially contained on July 5th 2003, there where over 8000 reported cases of SARS and over 750 deaths. The cases had been reported from all across the world; mainly in Asia, Australia, Europe, Africa, and North and South America. SARS has had a devastating effect on many communities across the globe; of particular note are reports in Hong Kong of fear and prejudice towards the families and victims of SARS that is very reminiscent of AIDS and HIV in the 80s. When large numbers of individuals are infected by an unknown or little understood virus the general public has historically reacted in a negative manner.
It is likely an attempt to protect themselves from the unknown. The consequences for our communities would be very similar to what happened in Hong Kong and in other communities that were affected by the virus. Our local community would require psychological, social and financial support. There would be a possibility of the main bread winner having passed away or having lost money due to being away from work for long periods of time. Medical bills would put a financial strain on families. Local government would need to implement education programs to ensure reduced infection rates and curb any further fear and prejudicial behavior from the community. There would be an increased strain on local governmental finances as many more families would require assistance. Many charitable groups would find an increase request for assistance. The time to recover from such a dramatic infection would take many years to recover from.
The movement of people around the globe, depicted here in a map of air traffic among the 500 largest international airports, can lead to the rapid spread of infectious disease. Reprinted with permission from L. Hufnagle, D. Brockmann, and T. Geisel. Copyright 2004 National Academy of Sciences.
Lee, N., Hui, D. S., & Wu, A. (2003). A major outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome in Hong Kong. N Engl J Med, 348, 1986-1994. McIntosh, K., & Perlman, S. (2009). Coronaviruses including acute severe respiratory distress syndrome (SARS)-associated coronavirus. In G. L. Mandell, J. E. Bennett, & R. Dolin (Eds.), Mandell, Douglas and Bennett’s Principles and Practice of Infectious Disease (7th ed.). Philadelphia: Saunders Elsevier. SARS: Cumulative Number of Reported Probable Cases [Clip art]. (2003).