SARS, Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, is the current epidemiological flavor of the month. Because of its novelty, apparent deadliness and mysterious nature, it has garnered front-page play since first cases were reported from southern China in November 2002. To date, the World Health Organization has reported a total of 8,384 probable SARS cases with 770 deaths related to the disease, most of which were in China and Hong Kong. How real is the SARS threat? Compared to malaria, TB or even common influenza, which kills millions each year, SARS is relatively small potatoes in the deadly-disease game. But the SARS epidemic, real or perceived, has had a profound negative impact on travel and the global economy. Surf travel to Indonesia, for example, is down by over half due to concerns about terrorism and SARS.
But according to experts, the SARS scare shouldn’t keep a dedicated waveseeker from boarding a plane to or through a suspected SARS region. Still, it’s worth a bit of digging through the media hype to assess a realistic risk of SARS and other more garden-variety diseases.
After that, fortune favors the brave.
What is SARS?
The disease appears to be particularly virulent and contagious form of pneumonia that is spread by close contact with infected people; it has proven deadly in one in 10 cases. While researchers have thus far been unable to adequately identify and isolate the virus, strong suspicions has been laid on a group of animal corona viruses first identified in China’s Guangdong Province. There is currently no verifiable test or antiviral treatment for SARS.
SARS symptoms usually begin with a fever of 100.4 or greater. Headache, chills, sniffles, and body aches–similar to the common flu–may also occur. After two to seven days SARS patients may develop a dry, unproductive cough. This can progress to severe pneumonia that will require mechanical ventilation in 10 to 20 percent of cases.
How is it transmitted?
SARS is apparently spread by respiratory secretions (i.e. sneezes, spit and snot) from a person who has SARS. The people most likely to contract SARS are health-care workers treating SARS patients. People touching infected items or surfaces–glasses, mugs, countertops, telephones, etc.–can also contract the disease (as one would a common cold).