SARS Closes Toronto; Canadian Officials Minimalize Danger
Vol: 19 Issue: 24 Thursday, April 24, 2003
World Health officials warned travelers to avoid travel to Beijing AND to Toronto, Ontario for fear they will get the SARS virus and export it to new locations. Toronto officials angrily denounced the move by the CDC and WHO, calling it an ‘overreaction’ as it braces for the economic impact the advisory will have on the city of seven million.
WHO’s communicable disease chief said Toronto had not contained the disease. A major reason for WHO’s action, he said, is that a cluster of SARS cases among health workers in another country has been traced to the Canadian city in the last week. He would not say where the new cluster emerged.
There is no treatment for severe acute respiratory syndrome, which has symptoms similar to pneumonia. It has killed at least 250 people worldwide, out of more than 4,000 infected.
Canada has been the most affected area outside Asia, with 140 cases and 16 deaths as of today, all in the Toronto area. After the WHO advisory, dozens of countries, including Britain, France and Italy, advised their citizens to avoid Toronto.
Canadian officials have begun downplaying the severity of the disease, saying it is no more dangerous than a typical influenza epidemic. The Toronto Globe and Mail carried a column by Dr. Richard Schabas, who argues that SARS in Canada is winding down and that the epidemic had passed its peak. According to Schabas, “SARS is a nasty infection, but it’s not the next plague.”
On the other hand, the London Daily Record is reporting today that SARS IS the ‘next plague’ that could eclipse AIDS. It quotes a Dr Patrick Dickson saying, “It is worth remembering that AIDS has infected 80 million people so far over 15 to 20 years. . . This is a far more serious epidemic potentially than AIDS.”
So, what is the truth? Is SARS the next AIDS? Or it is just an over-rated flu bug? The answer varies, according to who you ask, and that by itself is revealing. If you ask the CDC, SARS is one scary superbug, scary enough to issue a travel advisory against a major North American city. If you ask the World Health Organization, SARS is a serious global health threat. And if you ask officials in Canada — particularly officials in Toronto, SARS is just a bit worse than the sniffles and not worth all the hubbub.
The CDC and WHO have no motive to minimalize SARS, but they have a major motive for containing it. That is what their job is, and if they fail, they will have to face the consequences.
On the other hand SARS has the potential to devastate not just Toronto’s economy, but the whole of Canada’s. Whom do we believe? The folks who are charged with preventing the spread of an epidemic, or the folks who are charged with preventing an economic catastrophe?
When it comes to the dangers posed by an epidemic disease, I’ll put my money on the doctors over the economists and politicians every time.
Health officials fear the virus is mutating, and as it does, it grows more deadly. The disease’s mortality rate has jumped in a week from just over three percent to just over six percent. SARS now has a higher mortality rate than that of the 1918 Spanish Flu epidemic. In 1918, the world-wide Spanish Flu outbreak killed between twenty and forty MILLION people.
SARS is just the latest in a series of mutating or emerging killer diseases. E. coli, for example, is a normal intestinal bacteria that ordinarily beneficial, suppressing harmful bacteria growth and synthesizing vitamins. A mutated strain, E. coli 0157:H7 recently emerged. It kills half the patients that it infects.
Tuberculosis was the leading cause of death from infectious disease until the introduction of antibiotics in the 1950’s and was all but wiped out in the 1960’s. New, antibiotic resistant strains of this ancient killer have emerged that now claims the lives of 3,000,000 people a year world-wide.
Also emerging is the penicillin-resistant Streptococcus Pneumoniae, now the leading cause of death among children, the elderly and people in poor health. Cryptosporidium parvum is another common and beneficial parasite gone mad, causing Cryptosporidiosis, for which there is no treatment and can cause dehydration and death.
The Hepatitis C virus was discovered in 1988. Almost 2 percent of the population is infected by Hepatitus C, which kills as many as ten thousand Americans every year. And on it goes. This is nothing close to a full list of emerging killers. There is the flesh-eating disease, new STD’s so terrible I won’t name them, and new threats emerging all the time.
When He was asked of the signs of His return, Jesus spoke of wars, rumors of wars, famines, earthquakes and ‘pestilences’ in divers places. (Matthew 24:6-7)
‘Pestilence’ according to the dictionary, means deadly, infectious disease. But Jesus also noted these events, wars, famines, etc., would be like ‘the beginnings of sorrows’ — some Bible versions accurately render it ‘birth pangs’
This was one of the more confusing signs of the last days until not too long ago. Modern medicine had all but conquered most epidemic killers by the 1970’s. Even the feared smallpox plague was wiped from existence. As previously noted, tuberculosis became treatable with antibiotics. Polio disappeared. Advancing genetic science would seem to hold the promise of a world free of disease.
But wait. Jesus said that one generation, somewhere in time, would see ALL the signs. Wars, rumors of wars, earthquakes, famines, pestilence, and that, as we approached the end of the age, they would accelerate in both frequency and intensity, like birth pangs.
In the first three-quarters of the 20th century, medical breakthroughs have all but erased the scourge of plague from the human condition. Until the time appointed — the last days.
“So likewise ye, when ye shall see all these things, know that it is near, even at the doors. Verily I say unto you, THIS generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled. (Matthew 24:33-34)