Skip to comments.U.S. virus experts slam SARS panic
Posted on 04/28/2003 3:12:22 PM PDT by CathyRyan
WASHINGTON, April 28 (Reuters) - People around the world are overreacting to SARS, creating a sense of panic that could overwhelm common-sense measures for containing the virus, top AIDS experts said on Monday.
Sensational media coverage of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, which has killed 326 people worldwide, has fanned the flames, said David Baltimore, who won the 1975 Nobel Prize in medicine for his work on how viruses cause disease.
"I think there has been overreaction," Baltimore, a leading AIDS researcher who is now president of the California Institute of Technology, said in a telephone interview.
"I have to agree with that," added Dr. David Ho, another top AIDS expert who heads the Aaron Diamond AIDS Research Center in New York.
"Obviously, the fear comes from the fact that this is a novel disease. Many aspects of this epidemic are still mysterious. Fear of SARS is outrunning SARS per se," Ho added.
Ho and Baltimore ought to know. AIDS kills virtually everyone it infects without treatment and 20 years into the AIDS epidemic there is no cure and no vaccine.
In contrast, 94 percent of SARS patients recover.
Baltimore said World Health Organization moves have been appropriate, such as the controversial recommendation against travel to Toronto, where 21 people have died from SARS.
But boycotts of Chinese-owned businesses and scenes of people walking the streets of Hong Kong wearing surgical masks show that the general public does not understand the real dangers, Baltimore said.
"As much as overreaction, there has been a lack of balance, of putting it into perspective, because it is a real problem, no question," Baltimore said.
"But people clearly have reacted to it with a level of fear that is incommensurate with the size of the problem and I think it is getting in the way of a reasonable response."
The government in China, where SARS appears to have originated late last year, has been criticized for covering up the initial outbreak -- but officials there have said they feared creating the sort of panic that has been seen.
"The Chinese government was totally irresponsible in covering it up," Baltimore said. "We can't get away from that. It is a demonstration of the value of openness."
WHO has praised Vietnam for its response -- which was to immediately call for international help in handling its own outbreak of SARS. WHO has declared Vietnam to be free of SARS.
"This thing literally never would have happened on anything like the scale it happened if the Chinese had been open about it from the beginning," Baltimore said.
SARS, caused by a relative of one of the common cold viruses, has infected an estimated 5,300 people in nearly 30 countries. It has a mortality rate of about 6 percent, which is higher than comparable respiratory diseases such as influenza.
But while SARS is new and frightening, its impact, so far, has been minor. In a mild year, influenza and its complications kill an estimated 250,000 people around the world. Malaria kills at least a million, mostly children.
Yet earlier this month two Chinese runners were asked to pull out of a marathon in the Netherlands because of SARS fears. Many cities have reported people are avoiding Chinatown districts -- including New York, where no SARS cases have been confirmed.
"What happened to Hong Kong, for example, with the hotel occupancy rate at 2 percent, is an overreaction," Ho said.
Much can be blamed on media coverage, Baltimore said. "What we are seeing is a playing up of the things that make people worry," he said.
But, he added, perhaps scary reports are just giving readers and viewers what they want.
"In some sense people like to be frightened," he said. "And so, to some extent what I am saying is a denial of what seems to be a basic human instinct -- to get a sort of frisson (shiver) of excitement out of danger. And the press is playing into that."
Screw these morons they are just jealous that someone is doing the right thing here and we have a chance to stamp this out.
This statement shows just how uninformed these morons are.
No I am not a "The Stand" person I am just trying to be reasonable. As of right now it seems the infection control protocols in place in the USA seem to be working well.
We seem to have turned the corner on this no thanks to the AIDS experts. Had the strain that guy was spreading at the Metropole gotten loose it would have been ugly
The worst Americans can be accused of is deferring trips to Hong Kong. The numbers were never large anyway, and I hardly see how that translates into panic.
Even if people are going to Chinese restaurants less (and they seem as crowded around my city as they ever were), BFD. French restaurants aren't as crowded, either, and I don't think Americans are under any moral duty to patronize any business.
These morons know less about handling an epidemic than the common Joe.
The alternative would be to shut down our ports, borders and airports, or quarantine all travelers for 10 days after their arrival. That would send the global markets into meltdown in addition to crippling trade we need. It would also be political suicide, because if it achieved its objective of keeping the virus out, it would be assailed as being ridiculous and unnecessary.
I think we're doing everything that is prudent, which is in total contrast to how we handled AIDS. Leftists put politics before medicine in that epidemic, and the world is still paying the price.
This is true? Who thinks?
Hmmmm, 20 years later and we are still seeing 16,000 some odd new infections everyday. Despite the education available about how the disease is contracted and despite the fact that AIDS is not any easy disease to catch. Except for the small percentage of innocents, AIDS can easly be avoided. The same cannot be said about SARS.
No one knows exactly, so how 'bout a range. Say, anywhere between 2,000 (China cracks down hard, puts it back in its box), and 100,000,000+ (catastrophe in China, trouble brewing for the rest of us).
Anyone who says they "know" any closer than that is either lieing, or has a direct line to God.
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