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Basic Guide: Outbreak

The first SARS outbreak was in the southern province of Guangdong (China). Yet the outbreak was not identified until, after much pressure from the world governments and WHO (World Health Organization), China admitted that over a thousand cases had occurred.

With that, China agreed to start cooperating in international efforts to prevent the incoming worldwide spread of SARS.

The first SARS case was on the 26th of February 2003 when Johnny Chen, a 48-year-old American businessman, was taken into Hanoi following his trips to Hong Kong and Shanghai where he was found mildly sick. Subsequently he returned to Hong Kong for treatment but shortly after his arrival he was pronounced dead. Dr. Carlo Urbani, WHO's (World Health Organization) infectious disease expert from the WHO's Asian office in Bangkok, was called to Hanoi where he realized that Johnny Chen had died from an unknown disease and named it SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome).

Chen caught SARS from an infectious Chinese doctor who had been treating patients in Guangdong where the first SARS outbreak took place and who was also staying at the same hotel as Chen in Hong Kong. Consequently, Hong Kong was the next hardest hit territory after China.

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What's the difference between a probable SARS case and a suspect SARS case?

According to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), 'suspect' SARS cases have fever, respiratory illness, and recent travel to an affected area while 'probable' cases have the same aspects as suspect cases except there must also be evidence of pneumonia or respiratory distress syndrome.

What did the CDC do to combat this health threat?

The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) worked side by side with the WHO (World Health Organization) and other global partners to control SARS. The CDC has done the following:

  • Activated its Emergency Operations Center.
  • Deployed more than 800 medical experts, medical officers, epidemiologists, and support staff to work on the SARS response.
  • Worked with state and local health departments in investigating possible cases of SARS in the United States.
  • Managed extensive laboratory testing to identify the cause of the disease.
  • Instigated a system for distributing health alert notices to travelers.

If there is another outbreak of SARS, how can I protect myself?

As a precaution, one must frequently wash their hands with soap and water or use alcohol-based hand rubs. One must also avoid touching one's eyes, nose, and mouth as well as cover one's nose and mouth when coughing or sneezing.

Video: Hand washing against SARS

Hand washing is an effective measure against SARS. All members of the public should wash their hands frequently, using soap (preferably liquid) and clean water. Follow the instructions of the video below for the proper way to handwash.

1.2.1 Windows Media Movie (source: World Health Organization)

Who is at risk for SARS?

Ones at risk are those who are in contact with an infected person as in sharing the same household and health care workers.

How did the outbreak affect the economy?

Consequences of SARS have placed the world economy in danger. According to the World Bank Group and the Asian Development Bank, the Asian economies have grown less in 2003 due to SARS. According to a report from the World Bank Group that was published in April 2003, the industry that was hit most by the deadly lung disease was the service sector - including tourism, business journeys, and transport and consumer trade.

Vice-president of the World Bank Group, Jemal-ud-din Kassum, said that Hong Kong, Singapore and Taiwan were the countries with the most negative consequences. According to him, the consequences of SARS are almost totally the result of the fear by the population. In November, there was an estimation of 5.5%, yet later it was lowered to 5%.

In 2003, Vice-president John Lintjer of the Asian Development Bank said that it is very important to stop the disease in a small time frame. Then the tourism season of Asia is not in danger. Tourism is responsible for 9% of the economic production of the country. The Asian Development Bank said that if SARS was not stopped within three months, it would have cost 12.5 million euro.

The World Trade Organization reported that the world economy will suffer if the Chinese economy has less growth. China has become one of the main countries in international trade. For China, the estimated growth was decreased by 0.7%, from 8% to 7.3%.

Asia is the production center for many western companies. While almost 4/5 of all Nike shoes are manufactured in Asia, the Economist reported that the company would stop producing shoes if the disease was not under control within 6 to 12 months. Meanwhile, in the technology sector, about 85% of all PCs are manufactured in Asia and over 50% of all computer chips are from Asia.

The fear that the SARS virus has lead to less plane journeys, apart from the war in Iraq, is evident. The branch organization AEA reported a journey decrease of 17% during 7 to 13 April 2003 to the Far East, compared to the same period in 2002. Plane companies in the countries that are hit by SARS had a considerable amount of cancelled flights.

However, there are companies that are experiencing positive consequences of SARS. Companies that produce surgical masks sold much more during the SARS outbreak. Internet providers sold more Internet accounts and CNN reported that shares of three Chinese Internet portals, Sina, and, increased 68%, as the Internet was an important way of communication during the SARS outbreak.

Is there a test for SARS?

While a great deal of progress has been made on developing a test to detect SARS before the symptoms occur, at this time, there is no known test to diagnose SARS.

Is there a treatment for SARS?

At this time, there is no known medicine that will cure SARS. The best treatment is isolation (quarantine). To learn more on vaccines and drugs go to Prevention.


  • SARS Quiz
    In this quiz you will find questions based on the information available in Basic Guide, Virus and Prevention.

  • Crossword puzzle 1: Basic Guide
    Online crossword puzzle based on Basic Guide.

  • SARS Quest - Averting An Outbreak
    In this short Flash game, you will be taking on the role of the Health Minister of the imaginary country of Asitwon. Your aim is to use all necessary means to prevent a SARS outbreak in the country.

Related Links

  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
    The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is recognized as the lead federal agency for protecting the health and safety of people of the United States.

  • World Health Organization
    The objective of the World Health Organization, the United Nations specialized agency for health, is the attainment by all peoples of the highest possible level of health.


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