Microbe: Are We Ready for the Next Plague?

By Alan P. Zelicoff; Michael Bellomo | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 2
CORONA OF DEATH
SARS

The Metropole, one of the many high-rise hotels in Hong Kong, looks like a stately rectangle of white marble sitting at the end of the city's touristy entertainment district. The hotel is definitely upscale, boasting panoramic city views from many rooms. The rooftop has been converted into a swimming pool and health club, and the in-house restaurant boasts several award-winning chefs.

It's worthwhile to mention how glamorous and well run the hotel is, because it illustrates how many people mistakenly feel that if they are in a sanitary environment, they are safe from infectious diseases. Certainly, in a luxurious, Western-style hotel where one can order cocktails at the Sip-Sip Bar and enjoy the lights of the city, there's no chance of meeting a killer pathogen, particularly one that may have gotten its start among village chicken farmers and small-time salesmen peddling dried shrimp.

And yet, the events that took place at the Metropole turned an outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) into a disease that has killed at least 800 people in places as separate as Vietnam and Canada. SARS was, in a way, the modern world's first test in tracking and corralling the outbreak of a novel disease that was both highly pathogenic and contagious. The results have been decidedly mixed.

Information was suppressed by government officials from the start. This interference nearly crippled the valiant efforts of the World Health Organization and medical professionals called in to fight the disease. And in the

-21-

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