SARS Heads West; Grows More Deadly

A story in today’s NYT depicts the grim odyssey of SARS from bustling Hong Kong to the rural provinces of Inner Mongolia, courtesy of an Air China flight attendant. She passed it to her husband of 3 months, whom it killed, and to several other family members.

“We were told atypical pneumonia was finished in February,” Ms. Meng [the flight attendant] said through tears at the Hohhot Hospital, where she has mostly recovered. “I never imagined that this kind of tragedy would fall on me and my family.”

Out in the distant provinces, the article reveals, the local government is telling people that quack herbal remedies will cure the lethal disease. This is hardly surprising; I’ll bet you anything that those selling the “remedies” crossed the officials’ palms with some silver, and the endorsements followed. That’s just the way things work here. (We in American have no idea what real corruption is.)

This is an alarming development. At least in Beijing, HK, Singapore and Guandong Province there are facilities modern enough to offer a sterile environment and competent doctors. Not in the hinterlands, where conditions are often so primitve, the people so destitute, that there’s virtually no way the infected could hope to receive anything close to adequate treatment. It really could parallel the AIDS crisis here, which has so far been most devastating in the impoverished distant provinces.

More alarming still is another Times story on how SARS is becoming deadlier, with death rates doubling. I wondered last night as I watched CCTV what it meant when the announcer said that fewer SARS cases were being reported, but suddenly more of the infected were dying. The article explains:

The death rate from severe acute respiratory syndrome has more than doubled, to 5.6 percent, since the epidemic was first detected in mid-March, causing deep concern among health officials….The current 5.6 percent rate is much higher than that for the influenza pandemic of 1918-19, which was less than 1 percent, Dr. Stöhr said. But influenza then killed 20 million to 40 million people worldwide because it spread so quickly.

One theory for the rising SARS death rate is that the initial cases involved health care workers who were healthy 20-to-45-year-old adults and who had better access to health care than others. Then, as the infected health workers unintentionally spread the disease to family members and friends, and they, in turn, to others, SARS has infected an increasing number of older people with heart disease, diabetes and other chronic ailments.

This is scary stuff. The Times article also indirectly contradicts CCTV’s claim that the rate of infection is declining. The article says it is actually increasing. You decide for yourself which to believe….

The Discussion: One Comment

Abundance, like want, ruins many.

April 19, 2005 @ 1:30 am | Comment

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