What is SARS and is it really a "new" disease?

SARS stands for Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, a viral disease causing symptoms similar to an acute pneumonia, with fever, chill, headache, general malaise and body ache, cough and difficulty breathing. Therefore, it can look like many other acute viral or bacterial diseases. The difference seems to be that it can kill people.

"Experts" are stating that this is a new virus, perhaps coming from animals or birds. This would not be the first time that viruses have "cross-gendered" themselves, moving from one species to another. Already, researchers have said they have identified the genetic code of the virus, and although they dont know where it came from, looks like a new form of coroanvirus, which is similar to the virus that produces the common cold.

Already there is talk of trying to produce a vaccine for the condition, and President Bush has included it in the list of diseases that could be used to impose compulsory quarantine.

Does this new disease warrant this amount of attention, resources and emotional fear that is being given to it? So far, there have been just over 3,000 outbreaks of the condition with 144 deaths. There have been about 200 cases in the USA, with no deaths. This is hardly an epidemic. It looks remarkably like acute viral pneumonia, hence its difficulty in being treated, as antibiotics dont work with viral diseases. Pneumonia is a known disease which each year kills thousands of people. In the year 2000, 65,313 people in the United States died from pneumonia. I didnt read much about this in the media. Every year, three million people die from malaria throughout the world; that is 8,220 people every day. However, that doesnt warrant much attention as it reflects our inability to address one of the planets oldest and most virulent diseases.

So far, the death rate with SARS is about 3-4% of cases. That means 96% get better on their own without treatment. Could this whole thing just be a bad viral pneumonia which will die out fairly quickly or is really a new virulent virus that threatens to stop Hong Kong and parts of China dead in its tracks? Already, it has profoundly impacted the traffic to these areas, which has seen the largest number of outbreaks of SARS cases.

If it really is a new virus, then where has it come from? Is it from China, perhaps playing around with germ warfare on its own, with some nasty viruses leaking out accidentally, or is it just another form of virulent virus that raises its head every few years, similar to outbreaks of the flu virus.

How much of this has been fanned by the media that has now created a frenzy of fear in offices throughout the world and making people afraid to go to their local Chinese restaurant in downtown Palo Alto.

Personally, given the amount of misinformation and exploitation of fear in this country since 9/11, with ever changing codes of terrorist threats keeping us in a state of agitation and distraction, I find it hard to take the disease threat that seriously. We need a little more time before drawing the conclusion of the imminent demise of civilization, which is being attributed to this disease. Perhaps the biggest concern should be the amount of fear we are dealing with in our lives, especially if we watch TV or read the papers. Maybe we should give all media a break for at least one week, just to breathe the air and watch spring come in.