Thursday, April 03, 2003

SARS: are we too late?

There is an interesting piece by Julie Gerberding, head of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the current New England Journal of Medicine. Firstly, she does a good job of illustrating how effective the global response to SARS has actually been. The virus responsible has almost certainly been identified, methods of containment have been introduced and treatments are being worked out. Considering that the novelty of the condition was only really made clear on 1 February, it is remarkable that awareness of the problem among medical practitioners is now high and that the disease is under control in all but two of the areas affected.

Unfortunately, she then proceeds to speculate gloomily about the possibility that a pandemic may ensue in any event. 'The emergence of SARS presents formidable global challenges. If we are extremely lucky, the epidemic will be curtailed, develop a seasonal pattern that will improve prospects for regional containment, or evolve more slowly than it has in this early stage. If the virus moves faster than our scientific, communications, and control capacities, we could be in for a long, difficult race. In either case, the race is on. The stakes are high. And the outcome cannot be predicted.'

While it is too early to claim victory, it is clear that we can deal with these problems very well. What is also clear is that the panic related to the disease will cause more harm than the disease itself.

Faster... but fast enough?, New England Journal of Medicine [pdf format]

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