December 24/31, 2003

The SARS Response—Building and Assessing an Evidence-Based Approach to Future Global Microbial Threats

Author Affiliations

Author Affiliation: National Center for Infectious Diseases, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta, Ga.

JAMA. 2003;290(24):3251-3253. doi:10.1001/jama.290.24.3251

On February 21, 2003, an ill physician traveling from China's Guangdong Province spent 1 night on the ninth floor of a Hong Kong hotel. During the next 24 hours, this individual would infect more than a dozen other hotel guests and visitors.1 Within days, these guests would transmit their infections to health care workers and family members in Hong Kong, Vietnam, Singapore, and Canada, providing a vivid illustration of the rapidity and ease with which infectious diseases can spread and marking the start of the global outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS). One of the first persons to recognize the potential gravity of the situation was Carlo Urbani, an infectious disease physician working for the World Health Organization (WHO) in Hanoi. Urbani observed that a patient who had recently arrived from Hong Kong had a highly transmissible form of atypical pneumonia, and he promptly alerted WHO officials. His swift actions to investigate the cause of the illness and implement infection control measures proved effective in helping to limit the spread of the illness in Vietnam, the first affected country to stop its outbreak. Tragically, his heroic actions exposed him to the disease that claimed his life.

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