TORONTO — A year after SARS hit the world’s radar, scads had been learned about the virus that set off outbreaks in China, Hong Kong, Toronto and other spots, and ignited panic far beyond the affected centres.
The coronavirus was rapidly discovered, it genome sequenced within weeks of the World Health Organization warning on March 15, 2003, of its existence and spread. The animals that transmitted it to people had been identified. Doctors knew when SARS patients were infectious and what steps needed to be taken to stop its spread. With that knowledge, the virus was quickly contained. SARS is medical history.
Later this week — Friday — will mark a year since the world learned that a cousin of the SARS virus had burst out of some hiding spot in nature to infect and kill a man in Saudi Arabia. Since then, the world has learned of roughly 130 MERS cases, 57 of them fatal.
But in contrast to the SARS outbreak, at this point relatively little is known about MERS. With several million Muslim pilgrims descending on Saudi Arabia — the hottest of MERS hot spots — in coming weeks for the annual Hajj, there is a real sense of worry among scientists watching the outbreak.