X-Message-Number: 21552
Date: Sun, 6 Apr 2003 13:08:22 -0400
Subject: SARS not stoppable
From: Thomas R Mazanec <>

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Many experts believe spread of SARS inevitable 
Daniel Q. Haney 
Associated Press

Can severe acute respiratory syndrome be stopped? 
As hard as public-health officials work to stamp out the virus, many
experts reluctantly conclude it is likely if not inevitable that it
eventually will spread everywhere. 

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The highly contagious disease has killed at least 90 people and sickened
more than 2,000. New cases appear daily in Hong Kong, despite an all-out
effort to isolate victims and quarantine those at risk. 
Experts acknowledge that the eventual course of any new disease is almost
impossible to predict. Some frightening new infections have burned
themselves out, while others, like AIDS, have become global disasters. 
There were three more deaths in Hong Kong yesterday, as hospitals in the
autonomous Chinese territory struggled to cope with the growing burden. 
Health officials said hospitals were treating 39 new cases of severe
acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, up from 27 new cases Friday and 26
Thursday. Three men, ages 52, 73 and 81, died yesterday of the disease.
All three had other medical problems, the Hong Kong Health Department
Several features of SARS make epidemiologists, virologists and
infectious-disease experts fear total victory is unlikely. 
"Will it explode into a major epidemic that will propagate over the
years? Or will it fizzle out or be contained at a low rate? That's
unknown," said Dr. Lee Harrison of the University of Pittsburgh. "I
suspect we will see this disease for at least the next several years.
It's hard to imagine it will be over soon." 
Perhaps the most ominous sign is the steep climb in new cases, especially
in Hong Kong, which has had a nearly fourfold increase in just two weeks.
Each person who gets it may spread the infection to several others before
they even know they have it. 
Many are infected through face-to-face contact, but evidence is mounting
that the virus also may spread through the air or be picked up from
contaminated surfaces. 
On Friday, President Bush gave federal health officials the power to
quarantine Americans sick with SARS, although there is no plan to use
that power now. There are more than 100 suspected cases in the United
States, but no one has died. 
Besides quarantining the sick, health officials have tried to minimize
SARS' spread by urging people with suspicious symptoms not to fly on
However, some experts worry that those who are clearly sick may not be
the biggest concern. 
People catch bad colds from friends who have mild ones. The same may be
true for SARS. Those who have slight symptoms or even seem perfectly well
could still spread the disease. In such a scenario, isolating the sick
and quarantining their contacts will not work. 
"We may be able to slow transmission, but we won't be able to stop it if
there are many other cases of milder disease out there," said Dr. Arnold
Monto, a University of Michigan epidemiologist. 
The cause of the outbreak has not been proven beyond doubt, but
investigators say most evidence points to a previously unknown version of
the coronavirus, the bug that causes about a third of all colds. Some who
study this family of viruses say that because it spreads through coughs
and sneezes, they cannot imagine totally wiping it out now that it has
infected so many people. 
Some suggest that even if this outbreak subsides, the virus could pop up
again with no warning or it might follow a seasonal pattern, like colds
and flu. 
Just how it acts in the long run will depend on its genetic makeup and
origins. Birds and other animals have their own versions of coronavirus,
and some of them cause much worse disease than the human type. 
Researchers say SARS may be caused by a coronavirus that moved from
animals to people. Perhaps it is a standard human coronavirus that picked
up menacing genes from an animal version of the virus. Such leaps have
happened in the recent past. The hendra virus spread from horses to
people in Australia, while the nipah virus went from pigs to humans in
Malaysia. However, neither bug then spread from person to person. 
The New York Times contributed to this story. 

  2003 The Plain Dealer. Used with permission. 

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