Surveying the worldwide panic over severe acute respiratory syndrome, contrarians have hinted that it smacks of media-fed hysteria. Compared with malaria, which annually kills a million people, isn't SARS--its death toll at about 600 as of this writing--fairly trivial? No. SARS seems to be roughly as contagious as influenza and several times as lethal as the 1918 Spanish flu that killed upward of 20 million. Known antiviral drugs do not work against it. Moreover, if even a fairly benign form of the virus becomes endemic, new strains could always mutate again to virulence. Controlling SARS would then be a chronic global burden. In view of the unknowns, the World Health Organization and local authorities have been right to err on the side of caution.
SARS has already taught us at least three hard lessons:
This article was originally published with the title Three Lessons of SARS.