26th April 2003  Updated 3rd May 2003.

  - SARS(3) -

SARS (2)     SARS(1)

On looking at the data behind the hyperbole, I am struck by the tremendous effort that our authorities are making to control SARS.  The rate of growth of the pandemic has diminished from about 7% to around 1.2% daily outside of China.

Regrettably, that is not good enough.  It must drop to zero.

It is becoming increasingly obvious that this disease is the greatest threat to civilized man ever.  Even WWIII with all of the nuclear weapons of both sides utilized had less potential for destruction than the SARS virus.

This is because of the following data:

  1. SARS currently has a 16% fatality rate.(1)
  2. Those who recover are weakened, perhaps having sustained permanent damage to their system.
  3. SARS mutates rapidly.  In this it is like the flu or common cold.  Antibodies to version "A" probably will not confer immunity against versions "B", "C" etc., which might be more lethal than version "A".
Possible mitigating circumstances for SARS may be:
  1. Dr. Donald S. Burke, professor of international health and epidemiology at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health believes that SARS is in a seasonal retreat from the North Hemisphere summer, and that an all out effort might eradicate the coronavirus.  However, we have six months, and then conditions will be favor expansion.
  2. There was mention in this morning's paper that a US researcher believes he has found a treatment.
I am dubious that SARS can be eradicated from China.  Vietnamese and Canadian health workers appear to have found and quarantined all cases in their countries.  Singapore also appears to nearly have SARS under control.  The USA is a puzzle, with no fatalities.  What are they doing right?

I believe that the world as we knew it has probably ended.  It is time to plan for survival in the world of SARS and the other highly virulent, lethal diseases that will be endemic in the 21st Century.

(1) Fatality rate was calculated by dividing total fatalities by the total of those who have either recovered or are fatalities.  China was excluded (even WHO doubts their data) and the USA was excluded because the data is incomplete.  The data for the calculations was obtained from the WHO site.

Human society must change and adapt if it is to survive in the new world.  As more information about SARS becomes available, the suggestions below will be expanded & modified.

  1. Small modular societies are safest.  Small towns, small countries.  Restricted social intercourse within those societies.  For instance the social integration of Europe is retrograde.
  2. There should be provision for the rapid application of restrictions & quarantine on travel & tourism down to the modular level.
  3. The technology of people agglomeration must be inverted (agglomeration equals e.g. Malls, mass transit, fast food).
  4. Personal hygiene will become a survival skill.  SARS is spread in large droplets (reported 4/17 in New Scientist).  Common surgical masks and N95 particulate respirators are 13 times more effective.
  5. Surfaces are not safe.  After 24 hours, German researchers (reported 5/2 in New Scientist) found that the SARS concentration in dried droplets on a plastic surface had reduced from 10,000 to 1,000 viable units per milliliter.  Touch nothing in public spaces, not bannisters, not buttons, not doorknobs.  Washing of hands frequently is strongly recommended.
  6. Personal contact should where possible be remote.  Education and employment could be by videoconferencing & internet.  Shopping, deliveries, payment of bills, everything possible should be managed on the internet.
Even if we eradicate SARS, the next pandemic could be even more virulent and lethal.
As the world population expands, the probability that another pandemic will erupt also expands.