Adjusting in the Wake of SARS

Ten years ago in March 2003, SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) came onto the world stage, killing over 700 people, mostly in Asia. At the time, regional governments struggled to contain the virus. This was due in part to being unprepared and a rising panic in the population. Places like Hong Kong, Singapore, China, and Taiwan were deeply affected by the epidemic, and in the intervening decade since have worked to make sure such an event does not happen again, or at least make attempts to lessen the impact.

In Hong Kong, a major problem when the SARS virus struck was a lack of isolation wards. This led to a high number of patients being in close proximity to one another as well as medical staff. Since then, hospitals have been upgraded to include isolation wards where those suspected of being infected with SARS or similar virus can be kept quarantined from the general hospital population, and that allows frequent air changes to keep the air free of contaminants, making it safer for medical workers to operate.

Most areas have also built or are in the planning stage to build better facilities to deal with such outbreaks. Singapore plans to build an infectious disease hospital that would replace the current Communicable Disease Center and aging facility heavily in need of replacement. Taiwan, meanwhile, has already built and is using a high-tech Epidemic Intelligence Center.

China, on the other hand, has reevaluated its reporting procedures in the wake of the SARS outbreak. At the time, the virus outbreak took place at the same time as China’s annual political sessions. Beijing downplayed total patient numbers and declared the epidemic under control, even when it wasn’t. More recently, the Chinese government has set up mechanisms to inform others of public health emergencies within the country, a move to help combat the unhelpful attitudes of the past. They have likewise implemented better training on how to deal with such outbreaks, something medical personnel lacked 10 years ago.

Hopefully, such actions as the above can help hinder or eliminate other outbreaks of infectious disease in the future. By actively seeking to fight outbreaks, having the proper facilities, and training personnel to deal with virus strains, these epidemics can be stopped before they have a chance to spread.

For more information about lessons learned after the SARS outbreak in 2003, visit: http://www.straitstimes.com/the-big-story/sars-10th-anniversary/story/all-ready-next-virus-outbreak-20130601