Monday, March 17, 2003

Hopefully Medical Technology Can Stop This One

Today the World Heath Organization and the U.S. Center for Disease Control released warnings about a Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). You can read a FAQ about the little we know about the disease here.

Due to the mobility of our population, the disease seems to be spreading rapidly. It seems to me to have some of the same characteristics of the Spanish Flu Pandemic of 1918. The theory at this time is that it started somewhere in the Far East (China, Vietnam, etc). At this time, 9 of the 150 known persons with the syndrome have died, which is a 6% mortality rate. Pretty darned high. It's a little early to panic, but there seems to be a lot of genuine concern in the medical community about this one.

I did some searching, and came across something that looked similar, the Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS) which has been around a while. ARDS is not a disease in itself, its what happens to persons when they have some injury to the lungs or already have pneumonia. I found a treatment for ARDS, which may be what the medical community is using to treat this one. ARDS seems to be a direct consequence of SARS, though they seem almost the same.

The Spanish Flu Pandemic (so called due to the fact that reporting about it wasn't censored in neutral Spain) appeared and disappeared quite quickly. In fact, in 1999 this article asks if it could happen again. (The article is Part 1 or 2, but I couldn't find part 2). In 1997, a new strain of Influenza that is carried by birds was passed to humans in Hong Kong.

Both this Flu and the Spanish Flu died off quickly. Which seems very odd to me. In 1918 there was little ability to fight it. What caused it to go dormant?

Also, at the time draconian laws were passed to try to limit the spread of the disease. People are complaining about the Patriot Act now, imagine what will have to happen if this syndrome manifests itself in the same manner as the Spanish Flu did. We can communicate warnings much better now than in 1918, and medical researchers can share information, but we also travel more freely, and the disease may spread more quickly than anything before unless we do something about it.

This, along with West Nile Virus are a little disconcerting to me. Hopefully technology can nip this one before anything bad happens. At a 6% mortality rate, and with one-quarter of the US getting the Spanish Flu in 1918, we could see 4.2 million fatalities if the same rates of infection occur.

I hope history doesn't repeat itself.