SARS, severe acute respiratory syndrome, the epidemic, spread faster than expected at a time when immediate global news is taken for granted. Just remembering the warnings are enough to make me cringe. In Canada alone, there were 251 cases, and 44 of these died. But thank goodness, on July 5, 2003, the World Health Organization (WHO) announced the epidemic was no more. In total, SARS took about 775 people’s lives from 29 countries.
The epidemic of SARS was started in China in November 2002. The first reported case of SARS, a farmer, was treated in the Hospital. The patient died soon after, and no definite diagnosis was made on his cause of death. Despite taking some action to control it, Chinese government officials did not inform the World Health Organization of the outbreak until February 2003.
It was actually good timing that allowed Canada to learn about the virus. Canada’s Global Public Health Intelligence Network (GPHIN), is an electronic warning system that is part of the World Health Organization’s Global Outbreak and Alert Response Network (GOARN), that picked up reports of a “flu outbreak” in China. Thankfully, GPHIN had recently been upgraded to enable Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian, and Spanish translations. Prior, the system was limited to English or French. Still, an English report was not generated until 21 January 2003.
The CDC and a Canadian laboratory identified the SARS genome in April, 2003.
Masked Palm Civet
In late May 2003, studies from samples of wild animals sold as food in the local market in Guangdong, China, found the SARS virus could be isolated from palm civets, even though they didn’t show any symptoms. The preliminary conclusion was the SARS virus crossed the xenographic barrier from palm civet to humans, and more than 10,000 masked palm civets were killed. The virus was also later found in raccoon dogs, ferret badgers, and domestic cats. In 2005, two studies identified a number of SARS-like viruses in Chinese bats.
Health care providers were the heroes. Even at risk to themselves, they cared for the sick around the clock. The BBC wrote a wonderful tribute to these men and women.