Tuesday, December 09, 2014

BBC Horizon: "SARS: The True Story" (2003) seems timely again

BBC Horizon (and BBC World) presents “SARS: The True Story” (2003).  The documentary aired in late May 2003, shortly after the epidemic was contained.  SARS stands for “Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome”.

The documentary begins in Hanoi, Vietnam (a bit ironic historically).  A doctor who has treated a patient dies in Hong Kong and becomes the “index case”. 

WHO sent out an alarm, of a type if had never broadcast before, but them it was learned that SARS killed about 4% of its victims.  Slowly, some cases trickled by air travel to western countries.  In the worst case scenario, there could be a pandemic and economic collapse.

The cause was found to be a coronavirus, a relatively large virus that is related to viruses that cause colds.  It may sometimes cause flu-like illness in people who think they are immune from vaccination, because it is not the same kind of virus as flu.  This particular strain came from SW China, where people live close to their own livestock.  (Such practices can also incubate bird flu).  When people live in close contact with livestock animals, there is a greater chance of a mutation that allows the surface proteins on an animal virus to match those of human cells.  Diseases that suddenly cause disease in humans are often more severe than diseases that humans have had for ages. 
China apparently lied in the beginning, underreporting the epidemic, and the death rate was found to be about 1 in 10.  In Canada, a hospital and school had to be quarantined. 

Strict contact tracing and social distancing seemed to control the disease.  But it could happen again. 
Countries started using thermal imaging at airports (as has been done more recently with Ebola).  School children took temperatures at school (37.6 C was normal).

Vietnam would be the first country to be declared free – an irony. In Hong Kong, several apartment blocks were quarantined.  Edward Snowden didn’t pick the wrong time to go. 

In Toronto, over 10,000 people had their movements restricted at one point.  How did this affect businesses? 
Canadian researchers cracked the SARS genetic code in record time.  Later, a similar virus MERS would appear in the Middle East. SARS does not mutate rapidly, as does influenza.  

It takes weeks to recover from SARS.   People have recovered after being on ventilators.  

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