May 05, 2003
China Continues To Be SARS Threat To Rest Of World

Experts fear that SARS will become endemic in China and that the need to contain SARS in China will become a long term problem for the world.

If China becomes a reservoir for Sars, other countries, particularly its neighbours, will have to maintain constant vigilance for cases arriving from the Far East.

Professor Tedder said it was possible that stringent surveillance precautions would be in place in the UK and Europe for the foreseeble future - and perhaps for years to come.

He said: "What it may prove to be is a very effective dry run - one wonders what will happen next time."

Given its mortality rate we really are lucky that SARS is not more easily transmittable. If the latest crossover of a virus from another species into humans had been an influenza with a lower mortality rate than SARS but still fairly high (say 2% like the 1918 Spanish Flu) it would not have been controlled in Western countries as easily. SARS ought to serve as a wake-up call for a future lethal virus that is more easily transmittable.

Then there is the continuing problem posed by SARS. It may become permanently established in China. If that is what is happening then it seems inevitable that sooner or later it will become established in the Indian subcontinent and Africa as well.

The World Health Organization has recently published a summary table of results of tests on how long the SARS virus can survive outside the body. The ability of the SARS virus to survive on a plastic surface at room temperature for at least 2 days provides key evidence for how SARS has been able to spread thru apartment buildings and hospitals.

Another experiment in Germany suggests that killing the SARS virus on surfaces is not a trivial matter.

German scientists found a common detergent failed to kill the virus, indicating that some efforts to sterilize contaminated areas may be ineffective. An experiment conducted in Japan concluded that the virus could live for extended periods in the cold, suggesting it could survive the winter.

On the bright side, the vast bulk of new SARS cases are happening in China and Hong Kong. But given the primitiveness of the health care system in much of China and the attempts of some probable SARS sufferers in China to avoid contact with authorities (poor Chinese people do not trust the government to care for them) it is likely that even if the Chinese government is honestly reporting all known SARS cases (by no means a certainty) there are probably cases in China that are going undetected. One should really take the WHO case numbers with a grain of salt for other reasons as well. The WHO's definition of what constititues a SARS case is narrower than the definition used by some national health authorities (notably the US CDC). India is reporting 20 SARS cases which India claims are confirmed by lab tests and yet WHO has no SARS cases listed for India. The number of SARS cases reported by WHO for the United States includes only the cases that the CDC lists as probable (and perhaps not even all of those? Or is WHO slow about updating counts?). The problem is that most people who have had a milder case of SARS do get listed as probable. Until reliable lab tests are widely used and accepted as definitive I expect WHO SARS case figures will continue to represent only a subset of all people infected by the virus.

On another brighter note, reports of relapsed SARS cases turn out to be unfounded.

HONG KONG -- A dozen former SARS patients here who were initially thought to have suffered relapses actually had other medical problems, health officials said Sunday, as the rate of new SARS cases being reported around the world slowed somewhat.

It is very unlikely that SARS will become established in Western industrial countries. Quarantines other public health measures can contain any new outbreaks that occur in large part because SARS is not too easily transmissible. However, as long as SARS is being passed around in China it threatens to make it into other less developed parts of the world.

Share |      Randall Parker, 2003 May 05 04:41 PM  Dangers Natural Bio

Patrick said at May 6, 2003 3:50 PM:

Of course AIDS would have been really easy to stop by quarantine, as it is very, very, difficult to transmit.
Politics got in the way of that.

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