Disease risks change since SARS

Published on July 31, 2013
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A report published in June indicates that socioeconomic and environmental changes in East and Southeast Asia could reduce the probability of emerging infectious disease outbreaks, but any outbreaks could have greater impact.

The report, published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, cautions that it would be “simplistic and disingenuous” to indicate the changes connected with rapid development in those regions are increasing overall disease risks.

“It seems likely that the probability of new emerging infections may be reduced by many of these socioeconomic changes, such as urbanization and the industrialization and commercialization of agriculture and food production; however, the scale and effect of any individual emergence event may increase because of a greater concentration and connectivity of livestock and persons,” the report states.

The CDC report, “Prospects for Emerging Infections in East and Southeast Asia 10 years after Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome” (Emerg Infect Dis 2013;19:853-860), is available here.

SARS is a respiratory disease caused by a coronavirus that was identified in Asia in February 2003 and resulted in about 8,100 reported illnesses and nearly 800 deaths in people, according to CDC information. The virus is believed to have spread to humans through civets.

Eight SARS-related illnesses were reported in the U.S., although all the people infected had traveled to foreign locations with SARS, and the disease did not spread within the U.S. No cases have been reported anywhere in the world since 2004.

At the time of the outbreak, the CDC took emergency measures, including committing medical experts to respond to the disease, sending medical professionals and epidemiologists to help with foreign investigations, and helping identify domestic cases and causes of the disease.

The report published in Emerging Infectious Diseases states that disease surveillance and response abilities are improving in East and Southeast Asia, yet most human and animal health surveillance systems have not integrated.

The report indicates the SARS epidemic showed “the weaknesses in national and global capacities to detect and respond to emerging diseases,” and it describes risks connected with environmental changes, increased intensity in livestock production, interaction between wildlife and farms, travel, trade, urbanization, antimicrobial use, and government resources and partnerships.

A second report, “Public Health Lessons from Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome a Decade Later” (Emerg Infect Dis 2013;19:861-863), was published in the same issue, and it describes how the SARS outbreak underscored the value of public health systems and the need to adapt national and international systems.