|Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome|
late 2002, a new disease emerged in southern China, SARS:
Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome. (Presumably you already know about it,
dear reader). SARS apparently is of the same "family" as
cold viruses (it's a "coronavirus"...). But it is apparently very different from any
previously known coronavirus, so that scientists have not yet traced its precise
provenance. (23May03: The source may have been found,
|SARS infection is generally accompanied by pneumonia, and
about 10% of the persons who catch it die from it. As of
early May, 2003, there is only symptomatic treatment, and quarantine to
try to keep the victim from infecting others. SARS is spread through
the air, e.g., by coughing, or even by a person touching something
an infected person has touched and then, e.g., rubbing their hand across their eye.
Recently some persons who seemed to have recovered have relapsed, raising the possibility of
them infecting others after being released from hospital or quarantine.|
|SARS seems most likely to have
arisen in the same conditions of crowding and mixing of species as
"normally"(sic) "only"(sic) give rise to each year's new edition of the flu: "[T]he first
case of SARS... emerged [in November, 2002] in Guangdong,
perhaps in the markets where all sorts of live animals, from chickens to
cats, turtles and badgers, are sold for food."(Donald G. McNeil Jr and Lawrence K. Altman,
"Health Agency Took Swift Action Against SARS", NYT on the Web, 04May03.
of one such market...) Germs have highly propitious conditions
there for jumping from one species to another, including to
humans. Of course the living conditions of the people are crowded along with
the animals. It seems likely that SARS originated in some animal virus
which mutated and jumped -- the very short hop -- to people "in the
filthy, crowded markets of Guangdong" (Bradsher and Altman, NYT on the Web, 23May03).|
|"[T]he Pearl River delta, which encompasses Hong Kong, Macau and much of Guangdong, has a history of
producing many of the world's biggest pandemics, including some of the most virulent strains of influenza that swept the world in the 20th century.
SARS, or severe acute respiratory syndrome, is believed to have started in Guangdong.|
|"The delta, with 57 million people living in very crowded conditions, has long played a special role in the transmission of virulent diseases from animals to
people. It is common for ducks, pigs, rodents and other carriers of disease to be in very close contact with people, sometimes under the same roof. Fine
cuisine in Guangdong has also meant the consumption of a very wide range of wild animals, which may also carry diseases."
(Keith Bradsher, "Hong Kong to Set Up a Research Center to Study SARS", NYT on the Web, 05May03)|
|It seems unlikely that SARS would have
emerged without the crowding and promiscuous mixing of species. I think the
message is clear and cogent: All situations in which persons crowd together
are hazardous to our health. When crowding of other species and
poor sanitary conditions are added, that surely makes things even worse.
To return to the picture at the top of this page, the young persons
would be far safer if they listened to the music on their
personal stereos with a few friends, than wearing a surgical mask in a crowded
express my opinion that crowds are always bad and should be eliminated from
our lifestyle, people criticize me for having a negative attitude and wanting to make life boring.
You, my reader, need to think about the pleasures of being
lost in a crowd versus the pleasures of more individuated activities.
We will have paid dearly for the former if SARS turns out to be an epochal epidemic,
and, in any case, some persons have already suffered and died from it. A recent
OpEd piece in the New York Times (30Apr03, p.A27) pointed out that there are many other
public health threats afoot, including that one-third of the persons in the
world have been infected with
tuberculosis, and that there are increasing
numbers of persons with TB that is resistent to all current medicines.|
the intensive promiscuity of crowding created SARS, the extensive promiscuity of
fast, easy global travel enabled SARS to spread over the whole earth in just a few weeks.
All sorts of foreign organisms are spreading all over the earth with often
devastating ecological consequences.
Businessmen and tourists carry the diseases on intercontinental jets, while other creatures stow
away in the cargo or are even intentionally imported by people who for whatever
reasons traffic in the exotic.
"Feb. 21, [2003, SARS] escaped China when a 64-year-old Guangdong doctor checked into the
Metropole in Hong Kong and infected guests who would spread it to Toronto,
Hanoi, Singapore and elsewhere in Hong Kong."(McNeil and Altman, loc. cit.)
The second thing that needs to change in our lifestyle, is
to minimize people and things travelling around.|
|Unlike crowding, of course,
travel cannot be eliminated. But the quantity of it can be
minimized so that increasingly rigorous measures to prevent
the spread of disease and the invasion of alien organisms become feasible.
Long ago, the telephone company urged us to let our fingers do the walking.
The Internet and other technologies such as
enable us to access almost the whole world without going anywhere, giving new relevance to the medieval monastic dictum:
"Peregrinatio in stabilitate" (to go on an adventure without leaving your home town).|
|"New disease strains spreading rapidly from person to person and country to country are,
in part, an effect of this age of interconnectedness, a time of easy travel and gregarious habits."
(Daniel Schorr, "Conspiracies of Silence",
Christian Science Monitor online, 25Apr03)|
caught tuberculosis (or SARS) or any other communicable disease from communicating
with a person on the other end of a telephone conversation or email.
No exotic species ever invaded an alien ecosystem through its picture on a computer monitor.
|Donald Trump, for one, describes himself as a 'germ freak'
who would prefer that people bow in greeting, Japanese style, rather than extend a germ-covered
hand."(Amy Cortese, "An Arsenal of Sanitizers for a Nation of Germophobes", NYT on the Web, 27Feb05;
See also: "Germs Never Sleep")
In this one item, I agree with Mr. Trump. I also think we, again like the Japanese, should encourage
persons to wear face masks
to help avoid spread of infectious diseases (See picture at top of this
2009, a new pandemic emerged, apparently from a pig farm in Mexico: H1N1 "Swine Flu". This
new virus spread all over the world, sickening many thousands, killing (as of the end of 2009) ca. 11,500, and apparently also infecting millions without
serious symptoms. A vaccine was developed for this new (so far unusually mild) pandemic, but it was
almost the end of the year before supplies became plentiful. (See, e.g,
|Doing some shopping this morning (Saturday, 19 Dec 2009),
I noticed a sign in a pharmacy saying they were giving H1N1 shots from 10 to 2. It was 9:20, and I decided
to stay to get one (I was #2 in line, so I did not have a long wait). So I got a H1N1 "Swine Flu" shot this day. (Note: I got a
"Swine Flu" shot the last time there was a pig virus scare, back in the 1970's -- I suffered no ill effects from it.) I'd rather have gotten an H5N1 "Bird Flu" shot, but,
so far, there is still no vaccine for that far more worrisome disease, which is still around and still killing
persons, although it also still has not [yet] mutated into a form easily transmissible
from person to person, which has always been
feared because of its extremely high mortality rate; and it also still has not shown up in the United States.|