On High Alert

CHUNG SUNG-JUN/GETTY IMAGES

Dressed to Kill: South Korean soldiers and veterinary officials assigned to dispose of ducks on an infected farm

When World Health Organization (WHO) parasitologist Carlo Urbani was treating the first cases of an unknown respiratory disease in the Hanoi-French Hospital in late February and March of 2003, he believed he might be facing the front end of an avian-flu epidemic. Dr. Olivier Cattin, the medical coordinator at the hospital, had alerted Urbani and told him the Chinese-American patient currently in the emergency ward suffering from high fever, severe muscular pains and labored breathing had possibly come down with the disease. Virologists in Hong Kong soon determined that the agent was a novel coronavirus, not a mutant flu. But Urbani,...

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