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Learning from previous outbreaks: SARS

I believe in learning from the past. Although SARS is an entirely different disease than Ebola, there may be insights we can learn from all the events from discovery to containment.

Photo of Jess Chen
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This report is from the CDC's site on Remembering SARS.

10 Compelling Facts about SARS
1. CDC had never advised against travel to any region, even during the plague epidemic in Indian in 1994, until the SARS outbreak.
2. The CDC-wide activation for SARS marked the first use of its newly created Emergency Operation Center, built as a result of lessons learned from our 2001 response to the anthrax bioterrorism event, where 1,700 CDC staff responded without a dedicated EOC.
3. Deployment statistics calculated that CDC staff contributed the equivalent of 46,714 days of work devoted to the SARS response. Another 71 people volunteered but were not deployed by the end of the response.
4. Of the eight lab-confirmed cases of SARS in the United States, six were identified in the first month surveillance for SARS began. Five traveled to Hong Kong, two to Toronto, and one to Singapore.
5. Among people with SARS in the United States, the majority were male (53%) with a median age of 39.
6. In the United States, the only possible case of secondary spread was between a married couple and both had traveled internationally.
7. SARS-CoV comes from the family of viruses that also cause the common cold in humans.
8. In 2000, nearly 46,000 residents from China, Hong Kong, and Vietnam traveled to the United States. During the same time, about 83 million travelers arrived in China, 13 million in Hong Kong and 2 million in Vietnam.
9. Understanding respiratory illnesses is a challenge. About 40–60 percent of people with pneumonia will never know what microbe caused the illness, even after much testing.
10. On April 22, 2003, even after the cause of SARS was identified as a new coronavirus and the number of cases were leveling off, CDC cautioned about the epidemic, “we have no capacity to predict where it’s going or how large its ultimately going to be . . .”

Additionally, another more recent article from CNN on SARS vs Ebola.


Join the conversation:

Photo of Shane Zhao

Jess, great share on highlighting some of the lessons learned from the containment of SARS. We should definitely think about how might we adapt strategies used to contain past outbreaks to help the healthcare community fight the Ebola epidemic. It would be great to identify some of these innovative strategies from the case of SARS to share with the community!

The case of the CDC Emergency Operation Center that you have highlighted here might be something to explore as a separate post. Looking forward to more insight thoughts from you!

Photo of Shane Zhao

Also, perhaps you might add a link directly to your post in case folks want to easily check out more? Here's a helpful tip: to activate links in your post, hit the Update Entry button up there on the right, then follow the instructions here:

Photo of Jess Chen

thanks for the advice Shane! I've made the links active, sorry about that. Didn't realize they weren't active haha :)


Huge impact to behavior change in Asia, it may created social scarcity, but also prevented virus spreading at the same time. Mask wearing is still not common in the states, or other non-SARS related country yet, how might we turn this self- prevented action become more norm than scarcity creators?