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The lessons learned from SARS

By Jiang Xueqing  (China Daily)

14:37, February 28, 2013

This 2003 photo shows Peking Union Medical College Hospital during the SARS epidemic. (Photo/ Xu Jingxing)

In the decade since the outbreak of the deadly infectious disease, China has reformed and upgraded its response and emergency services, but more still needs to be done, as Jiang Xueqing reports from Guangzhou.

In early 2003, Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, or SARS, a previously unknown viral illness, was first reported in Asia. The disease raged across China, and spread to other countries in the region; by Aug 7, 2003, it had taken 349 lives on the Chinese mainland, 300 in Hong Kong, and 180 in Taiwan, according to statistics from the World Health Organization.

Zhong Nanshan, a renowned Chinese respiratory disease expert and a flagship campaigner in the fight against the disease, caught a fever after working for 38 hours continuously. At the time, an X-ray suggested that the severe pains in his chest were caused by pneumonia.

Given Zhong's social standing at the time, had the news of his illness broken, it could have undermined confidence among the public including patients, doctors and nurses. So, Zhong kept his condition quiet by staying home for a week and treating himself with antibiotics for five days, rather than going to hospital for examination and treatment.

"My symptoms felt like ordinary pneumonia, but I wasn't sure. Even today, I don't know whether I had SARS or not because I don't want to find out. During that special time, my position made it unsuitable for me to push for a more accurate diagnosis," said Zhong, director of the Guangzhou Institute of Respiratory Disease.

Ten years later, the nail that was driven into the doorframe to hang the medicine flask for Zhong's antibiotic infusions remains. His wife refuses to remove it, stating, "This is our memorial of (SARS) 10 years ago."

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