Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) was the first emergent and highly transmissible viral disease to appear among humans during the twenty-first century. Caused by a coronavirus (SARS-CoV), SARS is far more lethal than the pandemic 2009 H1N1 influenza (caused by a Type A H1N1 influenza virus). Although less lethal than the H5N1 avian flu virus, the SARS virus is more transmissible among humans than the H5N1 virus.
The first known case of SARS was traced to a November 2002 case in Guangdong province, China. By mid-February 2003, Chinese health officials tracked more than 300 cases, including five deaths in Guangdong province from what was at the time described as an acute respiratory syndrome. Chinese health officials initially remained silent about the outbreak, and no special precautions were taken to limit travel or prevent the spread of the disease. The world health community, therefore, had no chance to institute early testing, isolation, and quarantine measures that might have prevented the subsequent global spread of the disease.
Under a new generation of political leadership, Chinese officials subsequently apologized for a slow and inefficient response to the SARS outbreak. Allegations that officials covered up the extent of the spread of the disease caused the dismissal of several local administrators, including China's public health minister and the mayor of Beijing.
In many regards, the SARS outbreak revealed what was effective in terms of public health responses, readiness, and resources. The outbreak also spurred reforms in the International Health Regulations (IHR) designed to increase both surveillance and reporting of infectious diseases and to enhance cooperation in preventing the international spread of disease. (more)