The disease known as COVID-19 has affected nearly everyone on the planet, but this isn’t the first time the world has come together to eradicate a novel coronavirus. We saw a similar timeline of events back in 2003 when SARS started ravaging parts of China. The disease took the country by storm and quickly spread across the globe, but the virus was eventually contained. Could the same thing happen to the coronavirus that’s causing COVID-19? Let’s find out.
The Story of SARS
It wasn’t that long ago that SARS, or Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, was making headlines around the world. The disease first popped up in China in 2002. It quickly infected hundreds of residents, many of whom started suffering from a dry cough, fever, fatigue and even difficulty breathing. Healthcare providers and the general public started stocking up on face masks, sanitizer, and other personal protective equipment.
China raced to contain the virus, but it eventually spread to 32 different countries and territories, including the United States, Canada, Russia, and Australia. Health officials and the World Health Organization soon rallied to limit its impact before it could erupt into a full-fledged pandemic. Providers used similar tactics as the ones being deployed today, including rapid testing, contact tracing, isolating patients, and checking for symptoms at entryways and ports.
The novel coronavirus that led to SARS spread similar to the one we’re facing today. It is mostly transmitted through respiratory droplets when individuals are talking, sneezing, or coughing. People can also get infected by touching contaminated surfaces and through skin-to-skin contact.
SARS is also considered much deadlier than today’s novel coronavirus. It killed around one out of every 10 individuals who were infected, compared to one out of 50, which is the current mortality rate of COVID-19. These viruses share around 70% of the same genetic material.
However, just eight months after the first case of SARS was reported, the virus died out. There hasn’t been a known transmission since 2004. In the end, the virus only killed a few hundred people, not hundreds of thousands.
How COVID-19 is Different
Health experts believe COVID-19 will be much harder to contain than SARS. Today’s novel coronavirus has already spread to 214 countries and territories, which shows us the scale of the problem. More international cooperation will be needed to contain this virus.
The COVID-19 death toll has dramatically outpaced that of SARS. There are currently 9.5 million confirmed cases around the world with 481,000 deaths. In fact, we surpassed the SARS death toll back in February, before the U.S. reported over 100,000 deaths.
We also live in a more global society than we did in 2002 and 2003. International travel has skyrocketed over the last two decades. Tourists, business professionals, and highly skilled workers are constantly traveling across international borders, making this virus much harder to contain.
Both SARS and COVID-19 originated in China, and this country has changed dramatically over the last few decades. Millions of Chinese citizens are earning more than they used to. They are starting to enjoy the comforts of a middle-class lifestyle, including live entertainment, traveling to new destinations, and eating out at restaurants. Chinese residents also travel internationally more today than they did in years past.
Even though these viruses have a lot in common, they affect the body differently. SARS would bury itself deep inside the patient’s lungs, which made the disease more serious and more difficult to treat, but it also made it less likely to spread. Infected individuals would have to cough a lot to spread the virus.
That’s not true of COVID-19. This coronavirus likes to stay in the nose and throat, which makes it more likely to spread. Individuals can easily transmit the disease through talking, sneezing, and even breathing.
Will COVID-19 Die Out?
While this pandemic will be harder to contain than the one we faced in 2003, the SARS example may prove useful.
In 2003, health officials were determined to identify infected individuals, so they could stop them from spreading the disease to healthy people. Once the cases were accounted for and these patients were able to recover from the disease, the virus eventually disappeared.
If we apply the same meticulous approach to COVID-19, the virus will likely go away. Clearly, this will be an uphill challenge, but the SARS pandemic shows us that testing, contact tracing, and self-isolation do work when everyone is pulling their weight. Every state, city, and country on Earth will need to work together to prevent the spread of the virus if we want to eradicate it all together.