Special Series: Disease Dilemma

Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome has hit seven thousand people in the world so far. About five hundred have died. Find out how concerned you should be about SARS.

Ephraim Asher is a man who makes money making airplanes. The Tallahassee resident owns a company that builds these model airplanes in China, but these days he won't take a real plane to take care of business.

“In the last two weeks I cancelled two trips. One was to Hong Kong and southern China, business related, other was, uh, to Thailand,” he says.

He's seen the media reports on SARS, and heard first-hand from his son in southern China. To go to the factory every day, he makes a phone call to make sure no one is absent due to SARS. When he gets a green light, he then goes to his office.

SARS has killed about 500 people so far, mostly in China and Hong Kong.

Symptoms may include:

  • A fever greater than 100.4 degrees
  • Headache
  • Overall discomfort
  • Body aches
  • A dry cough
  • Trouble breathing

Case maps are periodically updated in Florida, and a new database went online in mid-April, just in time to deal with SARS.

Don Ward oversees the new system for the State Department of Health. It lets the Health Department map disease reports on a secure system, accessible to health officials all over the state.

“We don't wait in certain instances for a diagnosis. If patients meet certain criteria, they're considered to be emergencies and someone can log onto Epicom and report that right away.”

At Tallahassee Memorial Hospital, Dr. Joe Mazziotta hasn't treated any patients even worried about SARS, but he says preventing SARS is like preventing any virus, wash your hands frequently.

Ephraim Asher hopes he'll be able to fly to China again in a month or two.

“I think the situation will go away little by little. Many doctors agree the panic may go away, but the disease itself is probably here to stay,” he says.

Dr. Mazziotta says, “I think it would be presumptive to say this thing's going to be identified and wiped out because we haven't had any ability of getting rid of a cousin to SARS, and that's the common cold.”

Thursday, our "disease dilemma" series continues. We'll take a look at the second stage of smallpox vaccinations in Florida, and how first responders are weighing the vaccine's benefits with its risks.

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SARS: Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome


  • A fever of greater than 100.4°, coughing and shortness of breath.
  • Other possible symptoms include chills, headache, general feeling of discomfort and body aches.
  • Death is caused by respiratory failure.


  • SARS appears to spread through close contact, such as coughing or sneezing. It is possible that SARS can be transmitted more broadly through the air or from objects that have become contaminated.
  • Those most at risk appear to be family members and health care workers who have had close contact with an infected person.
  • SARS typically appears two to seven days after exposure.


  • Scientists have detected a previously unrecognized coronavirus in patients with SARS. While the new coronavirus is still the leading hypothesis for the cause of SARS, other viruses are still under investigation as potential causes.
  • Coronaviruses are a group of viruses that have a halo or crown-like (corona) appearance when viewed under a microscope. These viruses are a common cause of mild to moderate upper-respiratory illness in humans and are associated with respiratory, gastrointestinal, liver and neurologic disease in animals. Coronaviruses can survive in the environment for as long as three hours.


  • Several treatment regimens have been used for patients with SARS, but there is insufficient information at this time to determine if they have had a beneficial effect.
  • Those suspected of having SARS are being quarantined. The best treatment is unclear because different medicines, both antibiotic and antiviral, have been used in different hospitals.
  • Doctors don't know why some victims die and others recover. It could be because of the many drugs they are being given, or just the normal course of the disease.


  • SARS was first recognized in Hanoi, Vietnam, on Feb. 26.
  • An outbreak of pneumonia of similar symptoms struck Guangdong province, China, last November and was only brought under control in mid-February.


  • U.S. health officials said travelers should consider postponing trips to China, Singapore or Vietnam.
  • People who visit areas affected by SARS will be given a special card when they re-enter the United States. The card says:
    “During your recent travel, you may have been exposed to cases of severe acute respiratory disease syndrome. You should monitor your health for at least seven days. If you become ill with fever accompanied by cough or difficulty in breathing, you should consult a physician.” Travelers should save the card and give it to a doctor in case symptoms appear.

Could SARS Be Related to Bioterrorism?

  • Not likely. Experts said the SARS is almost certainly a contagious infection. The head of the CDC, Julie Gerberding, said nothing about the pattern of the spread of the disease suggests bioterrorism.

Pandemic Facts

  • A pandemic is an epidemic over a wide geographic area -- possibly the entire world. Pandemics happen about every 30 years, and health officials long have feared the world is overdue for a major flu attack.
  • The last major pandemic was in 1918 and 1919. Forty million people worldwide died from the Spanish flu.
  • The flu killed more than a million people in 1957 and 1958, and another million in 1968 and 1969.
  • The Centers for Disease Control has a network of contacts in Asia that watches for flu outbreaks. To help identify and monitor SARS, the CDC has activated its emergency operations center to coordinate its teams in various parts of the world.

Source: The Associated Press and The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention contributed to this report.