SARS: What are the odds?

The good news is that I’m getting married at the end of this month. The bad news, at least potentially, is that my best man is supposed to be flying in from Hong Kong to attend the ceremony.

My fiancee is a bit freaked out over all the news reports, and is convinced that we should just tell my best man (who is also my best friend) to stay where he is and not risk infecting us with SARS. I’m a bit more pragmatic about it, and figure that in a city of over 6 million people the odds are pretty insignificant that my friend would happen to be infected, especially since he’s been dutifully wearing his surgical mask whenever he’s out in public.

Maybe this belongs over in “My Humble Opinion” (feel free to move it, Mr. Moderator), but do people think I should be worried? I just think that I’m more likely to get hit by a chunk of blue ice falling from an airplane than I am to get SARS right now.



P.S. Isn’t “Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome” a bit redundant? I thought severe and acute were synonymns…

Personally, I wouldn’t worry about it. It’s airborne, but it seems to require fairly close contact with an infected person to become contagious. YMM, of course, V.

Godz, acute refers to the time scale of the condition. Rapid onset, short duration = acute. (Chronic is more or less its antonym.)

Tell your wife to chill out. It’s not like Hong Kong is a cesspool of disease. I don’t wear a mask at all.

Let’s see. 7 million people in Hong Kong. 761 infected as of yesterday with 17 deaths, most of them elderly, over a 3 month period.

I suggest learning about SARS from the center for disease control rather than CNN or message boards.

It’s getting more attention because, quite simply, nobody wants any kind of syndrom outbreak, especially one that’s air born, hence the hubbub

It’s not airborne. Influenza is airborne, this is not.

It is indeed airborne. From the CDC:

That’s airborne. It’s just not as easily spread through the air as, say, the flu. Or so it appears.

Sorry Smeg, but the CDC distinguishes between “airborne” and “droplet” even though the droplets have to be airborne to spread the disease. (I won’t try to defend their choice of words.)

So far, it appears that only people who get within a few meters of an infectious person get infected themselves and that is why most epidemiologists workings on SARS believe it is spread by droplets.

If there were evidence of transmisison over longer distances or through ventilation systems, then airborne transmission would be suspected. So far there is no evidence of such “airborne” transmission.

Less than an hour ago, I heard a summary of all that is known definitely about SARS on the CBC program Quirks and Quarks (which you can listen to online any time after 2, I think) and the conclusion I drew is that they don’t know squat. They are fairly sure it is a virus, but not cerain; it could even be that 2 separate viruses are required to infect you simultaneously. It could be airborne or spread by hand to hand contact. But the one fact that came through loud and clear is that 7 people have died in Canada out of nearly 200 cases (so there is about a 4% chance of dying if you do get it), while on average about 4500 die in Canada every year from influenza. Yet they are hysterical about SARS, while you cannot even get doctors and nurses to vaccinate against flu. Yes, the flu vaccine is not 100% effective, but if more people got it, the transmission rate would go way, way down. Epidemics are highly non-linear phenomenons.

BTW, just because I think the fear is hysterical, that doesn’t mean I think that the medical authorities should not try to wipe it out before it gets going round the world. A little money and effort spent here could pay major rewards (which we will never see explicitly since the reward is in what doesn’t happen).

“Less than an hour ago, I heard a summary of all that is known definitely about SARS on the CBC program Quirks and Quarks (which you can listen to online any time after 2, I think) and the conclusion I drew is that they don’t know squat.”

I think what you should have concluded is that the CBC doesn’t know squat. The CDC, Health Canada, WHO, and others know a whole lot (although many questions remain). Check out the SARS postings on ProMed, the CDC site already referred to, and the WHO site.

Hongkongers are the new lepers. OK, read this…

The writer lives in HK. Some extracts for those not registered with the NY Times…

"The statistics of the disease, however, scarcely suggest the need for the restrictions being imposed on travelers, which are slowing trade and hurting tourism around East Asia. …The disease is routinely described as “highly contagious.” If it were, there would now be tens of thousand of sufferers in this crowded city of 6.8 million. But there have been only 883 cases, or one in 80,000. Most have been within three clusters — one housing block and two hospitals that treated early victims.

“Even among the infected in HK, fewer than 15 percent have needed intensive care. The mortality rate has been around 4 percent, the norm here for pneumonia, which kills 2,000 to 3,000 people a year. The vast majority of the deaths have been elderly people and those with chronic illnesses. To warn against visiting Hong Kong and Guangdong seems curious when there are more widespread or virulent diseases like dengue fever and encephalitis in the Southeast Asian tourist havens of Thailand and Malaysia.”

The problem seems to be more for the health personnel who come in touch with the virus and are going down. After all, if the health-care personnel is all sick, who will take care of the health-care personnel?

To be honest, I’m still confused about the information that is circulating about this disease. I am now hearing that the desease is only spread through “close contact,” but how does that explain the early cases where total strangers living on the same floor of a hotel caught the disease? I am also hearing that only the elderly, very young, or people with “underlying problems” are at risk of dying, and yet there are reported cases of doctors (who are presumably not elderly, not very young, and not suffering from some other chronic disease) dying as a result of SARS.

Personally, I really want my best man to come in from Hong Kong and I’m not too worried about the risk. My fiancee, as I said, is worried, though, and I’m not sure I have the right to expose other people to a risk even if I am not worried about it.


godzillatemple, investigators will figure out the vector of contamination at the Metropole hotel. What is being learned is that SARS is infectuous outside of the body for a few hours.

For example, I sneeze in my hand and the droplets contain SARS, I twist a doornob with that hand, and 5 minutes later you twist that same doornob and then rub your eye, SARS then enters your bloodstream. Parents of little kids understand this one and that’s why one should teach kids to sneeze/cough not into their hands but cover with their shoulder.

Wash your hands frequently and avoid rubbing you mouth, nose and eyes with your hands.

More people die of regular pnuemonia or in traffic accidents than from SARS