Ominous March of a Virus

Hong Kong citizens wear masks to protect against the mystery illness SARS. After the first reported death from SARS in Hong Kong, on March 4, 2003, the disease quickly spread to four countries and affected citizens of 18 countries.

The ongoing outbreak of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, or SARS, prompted caution around the world. Some compared the SARS outbreak to that of the Spanish flu of 1918-1919, which killed more than 20 million people. While SARS did not cause nearly as many deaths, it spread more rapidly than the Spanish flu due to the intensification of globalization. Spanish flu was spread by people traveling on trains and by troops on ships. Cheaper air travel and increased numbers of international air passengers facilitated the movement of SARS from Asia to North America and Europe in a matter of days. On March 4, 2003, a Chinese doctor visiting Hong Kong died of SARS . The people he came in contact with at his hotel and in the hospital where he died became infected. From that point the virus continued to leapfrog to destinations round the globe before being contained.

In this Special Report, YaleGlobal offers essential information on the spread and prevention of SARS and an exploration of the impact of the disease around the world.

What is SARS?

Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome is an acute form of pneumonia. Initial symptoms include a fever, sometimes with body aches, headaches, or other signs of discomfort. In the first week of onset, SARS patients may also experience a dry, non-productive cough. In severe cases, patients may need to be placed on artificial respirators. According the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization, people who contract SARS may not experience symptoms for up to 10 days after contracting the virus.

Selected articles about SARS

Image of Coronavirus. Is SARS a Cousin?

The Spread of SARS

Investigations showed that SARS is spread mainly through droplet transmission. For example, if someone with SARS coughs or sneezes into the air, the droplets expelled could infect another person if inhaled. Another possible mode of transmission is by simple contact with contaminated objects.