The fear of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome is causing an increasingly panicked response in Beijing China.
At Bank of China branches, there were no lines. The traffic at Western Station, the city's main rail terminal, has dropped 75 percent, to 80,000 passengers a day.
More than half of universities in Beijing said they would close indefinitely as the highly infectious disease spreads there.
It is important to remember that the coronavirus that is the probable cause of SARS is nowhere near as easily spread as influenza. Yet, as previous history demonstrates (most notably the 1918 Spanish Flu), very deadly influenza strains can infect the human population. Given that SARS can cause this degree of fear and panic and economic disruption then just imagine the effects on human behavior of an especially deadly influenza epidemic. Countries would close their borders. Cities around the world would become ghost towns. Natural biological phenomena still have the capacity to cause huge changes in the behavior of literally billions of people.
What I'd like to see come out of the SARS epidemic is a wider appreciation of the need to develop better capabilities to respond to natural disease outbreaks in the human population. Much of what needs to be done to prepare for natural disease outbreaks is also is helpful for handling bioterrorism attacks. Better monitoring systems are needed for both natural and man-made disease outbreak scenarios. Faster methods of identification and isolation and characterization of pathogens and faster methods for developing and manufacturing vaccines are all helpful for both types of scenarios. Advances in biotechnology are needed to speed up all the steps of response to a new disease.
Another area that needs to be looked at is how to allow people to carry out more of the normal activities of business and commerce with less exposure to other humans. What simple cheap things can be developed to allow people to move around and do things without coming into as much contact with surfaces other humans have touched or air that other humans have coughed particles into.
I can imagine all sorts of simple and cheap ways to reduce exposures. For instance, how about short sticks to use to press elevator buttons? Or how about more foot operated devices such as restroom soap squirters and water faucet operators so that people don't have to touch surfaces that other people touched?
Another important area that needs work is the development of better facial masks. This is an area that cries out for nanotechnological developments to create material that will filter air more efficiently and last longer. Masks should not become less efficient as they build up moisture from a person's exhalations of breath. Masks should be able to take more particles out of the air with less resistance so that breathing with them is easier.
|Share |||Randall Parker, 2003 April 18 01:29 PM Dangers Natural Bio|