SARS: The facts, fears, forecast

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SARS: The facts, fears, forecast

SARS, or severe acute respiratory syndrome, is everywhere, it seems. It’s certainly feared everywhere. Since SARS was first detected in China last November, 3,300 people have been reported infected and among them, at least 150 are dead. The disease has spread to 30 nations. The method of contracting the disease, prevention measures and treatment are discussed here.

Q. What is the cause of SARS?
A. The world’s most respected research center on contagious diseases, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, United States, believes the coronavirus is the cause of SARS. The center succeeded in separating the hitherto unseen mutation of the coronavirus from an infected patient’s kidney and lung tissues. The prevailing theory suggests that the coronavirus transferred to humans from animals in Guangzhou, China, after a mutation occurred.
Why was a mutated virus created?
Genetic mutations always exist in nature. The results of the mutation determine the virulence of the virus. However, too little or too much strength is counter to a virus’s survival. If the virus is too strong, the host, be it parasite or human, may die and it will lose its breeding ground. If the virus is weak, it will be destroyed by the host’s immune cells.

SARS is a virulent virus but why is it causing problems?
With civilization’s progress, the world’s ecology has changed as well. Due to advances in medicine, patients who would die within days in the past are now able to live a few more weeks. Plus, high population density and airline travel have caused the virus’s rapid spread through the world.

Should one wear a mask in epidemic areas?
It helps to wear masks in order to prevent the contact with virus-infected saliva. The World Health Organization recommends use of the N95 mask, made from high molecular substance such as polyethelens, polypropylene and cotton. This filter-like mask is said to be highly effective in preventing airborne diseases. The name is derived from its success rate at preventing infection. Cost of the mask is 1,600 won ($1.50).

How is SARS diagnosed?
Because this is a new form of infectious disease, there is no easy way to diagnose patients through commonplace methods such as blood sampling and other tools. Right now, patients must rely on a doctor’s medical examination. There are two basic types of SARS patients: a suspected patient who has traveled through an infected area and has symptoms like a high fever (more than 38 centigrade, or 100.4 Fahrenheit), coughing and difficulty breathing; and more serious symptoms such as water in the lungs.

How dangerous is SARS?
The death rate from SARS is 4 percent. If 100 people are infected, 96 will live and four will die. This is not a low death rate, as the influenza epidemic of 1918-19 had a 7 percent death rate.
What is the best prevention?
It is important to strengthen one’s immunity, which takes time. Eating balanced meals, exercising regularly and sleeping sufficiently will all help strengthen your immune system. It’s important to wash your hands thoroughly as well. The best way to avoid SARS is to avoid contact with objects and people suspected of being infected.

by Hong Hye-gul
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