One reason the response to the H1N1 outbreak has been so efficient is the lessons learned from SARS. Properly called Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, this nasty little virus hopped from animals to humans in southern China, killing the first man infected with the strain in Nov. 2002. Media-phobic China didn't see the need to worry its population or anyone else about this exotic new virus, so SARS spread largely unchecked in China until a mainland businessman visited Hong Kong, bringing the virus with him and infecting dozens of others. By the time an American contracted the strain during a Chinese business trip, the virus finally got its turn under the Klieg lights.
As doomsday scenarios played out on cable news and in the press, a worried world stocked up on face masks and bottled water to await the apocalypse. Except SARS didn't oblige. Just over 8,000 people ended up infected with SARS, though it did kill nearly 800 mostly in China and Hong Kong. By July 2003, there were no more human cases of SARS and the virus is considered contained today. Officials warn that SARS could return; the virus is still circulating with its animal host. Let's hope it's content to stay put.
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