The 2003 SARS outbreak

It was also caused by a coronavirus. Here's how the SARS outbreak developed 17 years ago.

What is SARS?

SARS coronavirus, or Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, was initially spread by infected civet cats. The first case appeared in Guangdong Province, China in November 2002. The crisis was not identified until February 2003 by Italian Dr. Carlo Urbani, who immediately flagged the World Health Organization. By the end of March, Dr. Urbani died of the disease that he alerted the world about and treated several patients for. A little after his passing, there were 115 suspected cases of SARS in 29 states in the United States. However, no deaths occurred. By the time SARS was officially determined to be contained globally in July 2003, there were 8,000 cases and nearly 800 deaths in 29 countries.

“The concern about this disease is that it is a disease which probably emerged from nature to begin with. But instead of having dead-ended in humans, in other words, infecting humans and not moving on, it continues to transmit through channels of transmission to health workers, family members, and others,” Dr. David Heymann, Director of the World Health Organization said in 2003. The World Health Organization acted quickly, announcing travel advisories for China, Hong Kong, Canada, and Vietnam.

What can we learn from this?

NBC News claims that COVID-19 and SARS are structurally similar, but that SARS appears to be more deadly despite COVID-19’s faster growth in the same period of time. Just like SARS, COVID-19 symptoms are delayed and usually involve high fever, dry cough, shortness of breath, and weariness/discomfort. But SARS has been proven to turn into pneumonia while COVID-19 has no current links to influenza or pneumonia. The number one take away from SARS is that containment is possible; therefore, mass hysteria is unnecessary so long as we take precautions to quarantine and contain the virus before it spreads.