Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome

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Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (or SARS) is a new 'atypical pneumonia' linked to a coronavirus, according to the World Health Organization (WHO) in Geneva and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta. It originated apparently in China and spread quickly to Hong Kong, Beijing and Toronto (which has the largest Chinese-speaking population outside China, of about 400,000). As of April 23, 2003, the WHO had warned against all unnecessary travel to these cities, citing grave health risks: there is no cure, no vaccine, and no reliable test for this disease. Quarantine is at present the only control option.

SARS has approximately a 4% to 5% fatality rate and spreads by droplets - although it has apparently defeated mask and glove precautions in Toronto (hospital staff there now wear full face shields and heavy gloves). Much more alarmingly, it has over a 1% fatality rate among healthy 25-40 year olds. This makes it more dangerous than the 1918 Spanish Influenza Pandemic which had a lower fatality rate among the young. Unfit respiratory systems and poor aerobic health in patients cause the fatality rate to rise very drastically. As is common with such plagues, elders and children are most at risk and constitute the bulk of the deaths (according to China where most data has come from).

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