Turned up to eleven: Fair and Balanced

Friday, April 18, 2003

SARS Update
I am sure most people have already heard, but a mystery that was bugging me has been solved, in a way. The mystery was, "If there are 150+ people i with SARS in the US, why haven't there been any fatalities?" I had all sorts of great theories about latent bacterial and viral infections in different populations, chronic parasitic infections in poorer nations, like those of Southeast Asia, where most fatalities have been, but none of these ideas really fit the pattern at hand. Many of the dead have been adults, in apparent good health, including the ID specialist, Dr. Urbani, who first identified it as a new syndrome. Since coronaviruses are typically milder pathogens than this one appears to be, I thought the "superinfection" premise held some promise. As it turns out, however, the US health officials were wildly overcounting. When CDC adopted the WHO guidelines for SARS cases, the number drops from 208 to 35, making it much less of a mystery why no one has died here yet. My personal opinion is that, contra Laurie Garrett, the world public health community has been excellent in its response to this emerging disease. Hopefully, the concerted effort of the world's health care community can stem the tide of infection. Of course, I feel compelled to point out that there are still much more important public health issues in the world, such as lack of clean water, need for new therapies for diseases such as malaria and MDR tuberculosis, and the myriad other global infectious disease issues out there. Still, a ray of hope on the SARS front.