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Arch Hellen Med, 24(4), July-August 2007, 346-352


Severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS):
An opportunity for lessons in public health

Department of Microbiology, National School of Public Health, Athens, Greece

During the spring of 2003, a new clinical entity, the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), constituted a head line subject for the mass media and public opinion worldwide because of the rapid spread of the disease to many countries across the world. The microbiological and epidemiological characteristics of the etiological factor of the syndrome, a new coronavirus with high infectivity and mortality, were perfectly combined with the characteristics of the globalized world and in particular the population mobility. The World Health Organization (WHO) declared an emergency state aimed at restriction of the disease. Despite the fact that no effective therapy or vaccine were available, the termination of the epidemic was achieved, as announced by WHO on 5 July 2003, solely by the implementation of public health measures. The final assessment was: 8422 infected, of whom 916 died; 29 countries around the world involved. Despite intensive and continuing research on the virus and the pathology of the disease, many questions remain unanswered. Although no cases have been reported since April 2004, the danger of new epidemic is still real. Although the SARS pandemic was an incident with enormous impact on the world and constituted an ordeal for healthcare systems, it also gave the opportunity for the public healthcare services and the scientific community to derive valuable lessons for the future on the ways of handling such infectious diseases.

Key words: Lessons, Public health, SARS, Severe acute respiratory syndrome.

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