By Kelly Whalen
When a mysterious pneumonia showed up in the southern Chinese
province of Guangdong in November 2002, few could have predicted
the global crisis it would cause. The outbreak is now known,
of course, as severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS.
SARS, a coronavirus believed to have jumped from animals to
humans, is something relatively rare -- a life-threatening disease
that spreads from one person to another through casual contact.
The disease has reached more than two dozen countries since
the first case was identified. By June 2003, more than 8,400
people worldwide had been infected by SARS and more than 780 had died.
Although the death count pales when compared with outbreaks
of other diseases throughout history, the swift spread of SARS
raises strong concerns about the vulnerability we face in this
age of globalization. During the initial months of the SARS
outbreak, newspapers predicted that it was "the next AIDS."
More doomsday prophecies followed as the realization set in
that a deadly infectious virus can move from one corner of the
world to another in less than a day, simply by hitching a ride
on an unsuspecting airplane passenger.
Yet, even though illnesses can infect populations faster than
ever before, the spread of infectious disease always has been
linked to an increasing number of people moving around the world.
Smallpox followed explorers during the age of exploration, and
tuberculosis surfaced in overpopulated city centers during the
Industrial Revolution. In this interactive world atlas, trace
the spread of the SARS crisis and other key epidemics throughout
back to top
World Health Organization; Brent Hoff and Carter Smith III (and
Charles H. Calisher as consulting editor), "Mapping Epidemics:
A Historical Atlas of Disease," New York: Franklin Watts, a
division of Grolier Publishing, 2000; Sheldon Watts, "Epidemics
and History: Disease, Power and Imperialism," New Haven and
London: Yale University Press, 1997; Howard Markel and Stephen
Boyle, "The Epidemic Scorecard," The New York Times,
April 30, 2003; Rick Weiss, "War on Disease," National Geographic,
Feb. 1, 2002; Robert Glass, "AIDS Is Becoming a Global Health
Problem," Associated Press, Dec. 17, 1983; "World War II Hepatitis
Outbreak Was Biggest in History," Associated Press, April 16,
1987; Gary Gernhart, "A Forgotten Enemy: PHS's Fight Against
the 1918 Influenza Pandemic," Public Health Reports,
U.S. Government Printing Office, Nov. 1, 1999.
Kelly Whalen is a writer and documentary
producer based in Oakland, California.
Morgenstern; Designed by: Susan Harris, Fluent
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