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June 15, 2003

SARS Hysteria

Here We Go Again?

I finally decided to post something in response to the people who've been asking me what I think about SARS. In short, my suspicion is that the Great Epidemic may be primarily a media phenomenon, with minimum foundation in medical fact. A Boston Globe story entitled Epidemic of Fear (seems to have become the national pastime) describes how community panic ensued when a professor returned from Toronto with suspected SARS, but it turned out she simply had flu. According to the current reports, SARS is described either as a form of pneumonia or as a flu-like disease, blamed for a total of 334 deaths in China (772 worldwide) since it emerged last November. The first question to come to mind is, How many of those who died were already sick from other causes? Flu finishes off dying people all the time under normal circumstances.

Putting things more in perspective, the SARS mortality rate is about the same as for respiratory diseases in general, the majority of deaths occurring in China, where the standard of health care is not exactly of the best. Other familiar forms of pneumonia kill about 40,000 Americans every year, and influenza, 20,000. The flu epidemic of 1918 affected 60,000,000 people and killed a third of them.

Frankly, after some of the peculiar logic and pure sloppiness I've come across in what passes for virology these days, I tend to be skeptical when we hear about some newly discovered virus as the cause of everything -- assuming the "thing" was real in the first place. The CDC (Centers for Disease Control) web site provides no help at all in evaluating whether the SARS phenomenon is a serious threat or a routine flu outbreak. It makes one wonder how much the international health industry benefits from the media panic. When the AIDS "pandemic" that terrified Americans in the 1980s failed to materialize, attention shifted to Africa. Public perceptions are always distorted where money and power are involved. Journalists rarely question the official scientific party line, even when they report facts that are at odds with it.

Note Added June 16, 2003
Click here for a selection of links giving non-media-correct angles on the subject.

 
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