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SARS: A Postmortem, John Savopoulos

In July of this year, the World Health Organization (WHO) stopped publishing a daily table outlining the probable number of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) cases. At the time, the cumulative total had reached around 8,100 at an average case fatality rate of 9.6 per cent and the rate of new infections had also slowed as transmission halted mostly through old-fashioned techniques of isolation and containment. Looking back, action taken by the WHO might have suggested the adoption of a new or different stance for a disease, which for the early part of the year captivated the world's attention. Now, SARS is barely reported in the international news and press.

Throughout the year, whilst scientists scrambled over the identity of the SARS pathogen, its transmission and DNA sequence, reports also accumulated that led many to believe that poor basic hygiene exacerbated the spread of the virus (which had much in common with influenza). In China, for example, studies began to surface identifying rare animal species acting as reservoirs of the virus, entering the human food chain. Others blamed inadequate plumbing systems as a main contributor to transmission in residential buildings, especially in Hong Kong. Lately, many now comment on what impact SARS may have on seasonal epidemics of influenza.

They fear that the symptoms of flu, which can include pneumonia in severe cases, are easily confused with those of SARS. Flu typically infects 10 to 20 per cent of the total population and is responsible for between 250,000 and 500,000 deaths annually. During the closing months of 2003, anybody with an interest in infectious diseases, be it in the public policy-making sector or the pharmaceutical/biotech industry might look back and ask 'what did SARS actually teach us?' More importantly, one might wonder 'did the relevant parties respond in the correct way?' This article focuses on the pharmaceutical industries' response to SARS and critiques whether, one year after the initial cases of SARS, we are closer to understanding and preventing another outbreak of the disease.


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John Savopoulos heads the Infectious Disease team as the Lead Analyst for Datamonitor.

John and his team work with international opinion leaders developing studies in the areas of HIV, hepatitis, bacterials, fungals and other infectious diseases. Previously he worked within discovery research at GlaxoSmithKline Pharmaceuticals (UK) contributing mainly to 'early-phase' anti-infective programmes. He has also consulted within strategic planning and discovery portfolio at GlaxoSmithKline Biologicals (Belgium), where he led a company-wide appraisal of the new product pipeline, ensuring candidate vaccines were accurately prioritised to long-term commercial objectives. John has a PhD in Molecular Biology from the University of London and an MBA from City University, London. By John Savopoulos, Lead Analyst of Infectious Diseases at Datamonitor Healthcare Europe

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