Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome
The World Health Organization (WHO) and Centers for Disease
Control and Prevention (CDC) are investigating an outbreak of a new disease—severe
acute respiratory syndrome (SARS). The disease is so named because one of the
primary symptoms is respiratory distress. The symptoms of SARS include a temperature
over 100°F (38.0°C), headache, a dry cough, and difficulty breathing.
Health officials believe that the incubation period for SARS is 2–6 days,
which means that a person could be carrying the disease for several days before
The WHO reports that as of April 2, 2003, there have been 79 deaths and more than 2,200 cases of SARS in 16 countries, including the United States. The virus first surfaced in Guangdong, China in November, 2002. It moved to Hong Kong and began spreading to other countries. The WHO recognized it as a global threat in February 2003.
Once a disease such as SARS is recognized as a global threat, swift action is taken to determine its cause and develop a treatment. Recent evidence indicates that the virus responsible for SARS is a new strain of the coronavirus. The coronavirus is best known as the virus that causes some of the strains of the common cold. Researchers hope that by knowing which virus causes the disease, an effective course of treatment can be developed.
Medical advances such as gene therapy have given people with
major illnesses and disorders a chance at life. Gene therapy is the attempt to
treat, cure, or prevent diseases by changing the expression of a person's genes.
In 1990, the first gene therapy was conducted on a four year old girl that had
an inherited immune deficiency disorder. The therapy was successful. However,
there have been set backs. In 1999, Jesse Gelsinger died from multiple organ
failure during a gene therapy treatment. Gene therapy continues to be on the
front line in medical research.
Public health experts admit that they are not completely sure how SARS spreads, but they think it is spread primarily by direct contact with a person who is infected with the virus. It is possible that the virus could linger on surfaces such as elevator buttons, hands, and tables. Health officials stress the need to wash your hands regularly to prevent not only SARS, but other illnesses as well.
In the early 1900s, an epidemic of influenza killed nearly
550,000 people in the United States. Since then, research and treatment of diseases
has improved dramatically. Most health officials agree that SARS has reached
epidemic status in China, but the number of deaths should be greatly reduced
with early treatment and continued research.
Research the steps involved in isolating and preventing the spread of disease.
How do organizations, such as the WHO and CDC, work together and with other countries
to prevent a global epidemic? How has the modern age of travel made it more difficult
to prevent the transmission of diseases from country to country?