Academic journal article British Journal of Canadian Studies

SARS in Context: Memory, History, Policy

Academic journal article British Journal of Canadian Studies

SARS in Context: Memory, History, Policy

Article excerpt

Jacalyn Duffin and Arthur Sweetman (eds), SARS in Context: Memory, History, Policy (Montreal and Kingston: McGill-Queens' University Press, 2006), xiii + 200pp. Paper. £17.99. ISBN 0-7735-3194-7.

Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) is a highly contagious lung disease which first appeared in China in November 2002. The speed with which airline travellers carried it to five continents shocked the world. Between February and July 2003 it affected over 8,000 people, killing 774 worldwide, and 44 in Canada, most of them in Toronto. The disease was quickly identified and, as this highly readable volume shows, tracked, controlled and contained by the ancient techniques of quarantine, hand-washing and the wearing of masks and gowns, but despite the fact that it was comparatively promptly controlled, fears of plague and bio-terrorism were aroused, and, when the World Health Organisation issued advisory notices against travel to Canada, dire forecasts of economic disruption were pronounced.

SARS in Context does just what its title suggests: the epidemic is examined in the context of the memories of those who were responsible for identifying and containing the outbreak, then against the background of history and finally its effect on the economy and public policy. As a well-informed but lay reader, I found the first section the most compelling. James G. Young was provincial coroner and commissioner of public safety and security, and Dick Zoutman was head of the Scientific Advisory Committee. Their vivid first-hand accounts of the process of distinguishing the disease from other infections, and developing the means to control it, read like a modern Journal of the Plague Year as they describe the fear, stress, frustration and sheer exhaustion of dealing with an unknown infection. …

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