Wed, May 21, 2003 - Page 8 News List

Hot rooms, cool heads can help beat SARS

By Chao Yu-chan 趙裕展

The SARS outbreak in this country is about to reach its peak. No one is sure whether it will later escalate or abate. But since the SARS virus comes from the same family as that responsible for the common cold, logically the number of cases should decrease as summer comes.

Experts have estimated that the temperature range between 17?C and 26?C is the most favorable for the SARS virus. Taipei City's average temperature in May is 26?C and in June the figure surpasses 28?C. High temperatures, coupled with effective measures adopted by the government and the public, are expected to rapidly slow down the epidemic next month. People should feel relieved.

One characteristic of epidemics such as this one is that the more urbanized an area is, the greater harm it will suffer. The reasons are certainly complex, but air-conditioning might be a crucial factor.

Many people believe that an air-conditioned room is a closed space, where the virus is easily transmitted. However, experts have confirmed that SARS is spread through close face-to-face contact with infected droplets when a patient sneezes or coughs. Therefore, introducing hot air from outside is also an important means to reduce transmission.

If all the nation's public and private facilities turn up the temperature of their air-conditioners, or simply open all windows, then the SARS virus have more trouble making inroads into the human body. Even if it does, patients will be less likely to develop serious conditions. If patients keep staying in cool isolation wards, their ailment might worsen.

In the long term, SARS stands a good chance of coming back each year like enterovirus and dengue fever. Due to its lethal nature, developing drugs to cure and prevent the disease is crucial. Now experts generally believe that effective treatment will be developed within the next couple of years. So might effective vaccines.

In view of the facts that protective masks have been in short supply since early this year and that the World Health Organization refused to make it a priority to offer masks to Taiwan, we must not depend on it for making the drugs and vaccines required for treatment available to us. We must be capable of manufacturing them. But this is more complex than providing masks because it involves patents.

Since the genetic sequence of the coronavirus has already been decoded by other countries, the use of the sequences to conduct virus testing might be fettered by patents. If developing the vaccines and cures is also forestalled by other nations, we will find ourselves bound by the patents as well unless better and different approaches are available.

By that time, even if this country develops similar vaccines and treatments, which could then be manufactured by the government and provided for public use without compensation, there will still be suspicion of patent violations. Therefore, even if we are in extreme agony, we might have to pay an exorbitant price for these products. The products might even become other countries' political bargaining chips.

This is why the speed of developing the drugs and vaccines is of great importance. At the moment the nation's universities and institutes are all scrambling to carry out SARS research, but cooperating is not an easy thing. If effective medical methods are developed by other nations, it might affect Taiwan's anti-SARS efforts in the future.

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