Health Alert: SARS

Initial reactions from the medical community to belittle the dangers posed by SARS have altered to growing warnings that a Spanish flu-type situation could well be on the world’s doorstep. In 1918/1919, 40 million people died, 675,000 of them in the United States.

The disease was horrifying. Isaac Starr, a third-year medical student from the University of Pennsylvania, wrote in 1918: “As their lungs filled … the patients became short of breath and increasingly cyanotic. After gasping for several hours they became delirious and incontinent, and many died struggling to clear their airways of a blood-tinged froth that sometimes gushed from their nose and mouth. It was a dreadful business”.

Like Spanish flu, the current outbreak of SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) was a mutant form of viral pneumonia, which basically drowns the patients in their own body fluids.

The outbreak is centred around Hong Kong, where Avian flu has been threatening to migrate to the human population in recent years. The medical community is still unclear as to the origins of SARS and also as to how it is transmitted.

Of the 1,800 people infected around the world, 62 have died. The disease has already reached 17 countries, including China, Canada and the West Coast of the USA.

It is thought that SARS is a mutation of coronovirus, the virus which causes the common cold. The symptoms include a cough, shortness of breath, problems with breathing and evidence of pneumonia on a chest X-ray. A fever over 39ºC (100.4F) is another symptom. The disease appears to have an incubation period of between four and ten days.

The fact that it is spread through close contact, means that the simple act of washing the hands regularly decreases the chance of infection. Like Spanish Flu, SARS appears to attack young, healthy people rather than those traditionally more at risk, such as infants and the elderly, or those with depressed immune systems.


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Author`s name Editorial Team