Fri, May 02, 2003 - Page 8 News List

Remaining calm in times of contagion

By Chen Fu-min 陳福民

The importance of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) has outweighed that of the US-Iraq war in people's minds. SARS might appear terrifying, but the number of fatalities so far stands at only a few hundred. If those in power can respect professionalism, methods for diagnosing, curing and preventing SARS should be developed very quickly through international coopera-tion. At the moment, calming people's feelings is the most important thing. Creating panic among ourselves will only cause serious damage to the country.

SARS is caused by a new type of coronavirus, which rapidly sabotages the human body's immune system and starts to reproduce. It makes inroads right into the lungs. It is not yet known whether the virus is extremely destructive during reproduction, or whether the body's immune system reacts so drastically to it that it damages the internal organs, causing breathing failure and even death.

The SARS virus apparently changes very quickly -- six strains have been identified so far. We also know that the coronavirus cannot stand heat. The children who often come down with colds might be relatively less prone to SARS or might have lighter symptoms if they do get infected. We also know that only by staying in a closed room or having close contact with patients can one easily contract the disease. It means that it takes a large quantity of virus cells for one to get infected.

I therefore offer the following viewpoints.

First, according to the basic principle that organisms always seek to prolong their lives, we can believe that the SARS virus has no intention of killing its host because the virus cannot form an independent cell by itself and it must rely on the host cell for survival. It keeps mutating in order to lengthen its life. Therefore, we can reasonably believe that it will become milder and milder, allowing the host to stay alive to spread the virus.

Second, since the cause of SARS is coronavirus, the modes of transmission should be akin to those of the flu. The quantity of virus cells and one's natural immunity should be important factors in whether one will be infected.

In terms of prevention, engaging in more outdoor activities and staying away from SARS-affected patients is the best policy. Not going to high-risk areas and avoiding contact with patients is the second best method. If one must go to dangerous areas or come into contact with patients, one must wear masks and frequently wash one's hands.

Third, diagnosing and curing a disease early is the golden rule. Conducting a self-evaluation and seeking medical help as early as possible can save lives. The flu caused by another coronavirus does not cause a fever, which means the virus cannot stand heat. SARS patients have a fever because the mutated coronavirus triggers overly strong human immune reactions. We can reasonably deduce that immediate exposure to sunlight or a hot bath after being exposed to the SARS virus, or receiving fevertherapy when symptoms begin to appear, will achieve good results.

Fourth, to avoid infection, the government should encourage people to spend more time at home or outdoors. Use electronic communications more and reduce the number of gatherings. Use mass transportation systems less.

And fifth, humans normally can recover from a virus-induced disease. Patients should seek medical treatment to protect their lung tissue as early as possible.

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