Secrecy and The Spread Of The Deadly Disease

Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, also known as SARS, is an atypical pneumonia that is rapidly spreading throughout the world as we speak. Symptoms of this virus include fevers of 100.4 Fahrenheit and higher, a dry cough and shortness of breath. Symptoms can also include chills, headache and body aches. The quarantine period for SARS is 2-7 days. SARS spreads as easily as inhaling a breath of air. This deadly virus can spread when someone breathes in droplets left in the air by a SARS patient who coughs or sneezes. A person can catch the disease by touching any object that a SARS patient coughed or sneezed on. Most cases of SARS have been from close contact with a patient.

This virus was confirmed to be a member of the coronavirus family on April 16, 2003. SARS is of major concern because it has never before been seen in humans, which means there are many answers to still be answered. Typically, other coronaviruses are responsible for 10 to 20 percent of common colds and respiratory illnesses that sometimes lead to bronchitis and pneumonia. This specific virus can survive for up to 3 hours outside the body, meaning that it can simply be spread to many people within this short period.

SARS illness first appeared in China’s southern Guangdong province. Cases have been detected as far back as November of 2002. The major spread around the world began in February of 2003. Health officials discovered that a group of 13 patients stayed at the Hotel Metropole in Hong Kong during February of 2003. These 13 patients spread the disease to Singapore; Hanoi, Vietnam; Toronto, Canada; and many other countries in the world. Health Officials tracked each person to see how the spread began.

The first occupant is a medical professor treated SARS victims in China’s Guangdong province stayed at the hotel on February 21, 2003. He was admitted to the hospital the next day and died the day after. This professor spread SARS to two of his family members- one of which died- and four hospital workers. The second occupant traveled to Hanoi after his stay at the hotel and is hospitalized. He infected 37 hospital workers and was evacuated to the Hong Kong hospital where he died. Of these infections, one is said to be linked to a case in Thailand. The third, fourth, and fifth occupants travel to Singapore and spread to 70 others which later on spread throughout Singapore and Germany.

The sixth and seventh occupants travel to Canada and are related to 16 other cases in Toronto. Occupant eight spreads SARS to 3 more hospital workers in Hong Kong. The ninth occupant travels to the US. The tenth spreads to 99 hospital workers in Hong Kong. Occupant eleven travels to Ireland. The next two occupants are a married couple that travels to the US. Staying at the hotel after the first occupant left infected them. This is just simply an example of how the disease can spread so rapidly.

The World Health Organization acknowledged this disease on February 11, 2003, when they received reports from the Chinese Ministry of Health. They received the report describing the outbreak of SARS with 300 cases and 5 deaths in Guangdong Province. At this time it was said that a team from the Ministry of Health was working with health officials in the Guangdong Province to investigate the outbreak and collect samples for lab analysis.

Questions were raised when the timing in reporting and the first sign of the illness wasn’t corresponding. China revealed that there have been hundreds of cases of SARS there as far back as November, this is months before international health officials discovered it in Vietnam. China has a reputation of secrecy that can involve events of more than 40 years ago. China’s law on informing the public about SARS is in cooperation broadcasted on January 23, 1996, by the Ministry of Public Health and the State Bureau for the Protection of State Secrets where the “highest level infectious diseases” are classified as “highly secret”, explained Mirsky.

Throughout the first couple months, most Chinese websites and forums that mentioned SARS were usually blocked. A Shanghai doctor, an expert on epidemic diseases, expressed a view familiar that most other officials feel when he said, “You foreigners value each person’s life more than we do because you have fewer people in your countries. Our primary concern is social stability, and if a few people’s deaths are kept secret, it’s worth it to keep things stable.” In China almost any “negative” event is politically sensitive.

So the issue here proves to be another case of where science is not pure when there is politics. As I have discussed in previous papers, there is no such thing as pure science because humans are responsible for science. Environmental, economic, social and energy related traces are important in showing humanity’s use of technology and science, but this case reveals that certain political and economic changes are needed so that scientists can use their knowledge to benefit the great majority of humanity. China’s decision in keeping this disease a secret has indirectly been used as a weapon against the rest of the nation and even on their own people.

Unfortunately, this case has given another example that science is intended to benefit society and humanity, but no matter how far science and technology evolves, there is no pure science when politics exists. China favored politics over ethics and taking advantage of science. There is no pure science when everyone has their own beliefs and different priorities to what is more important.


1. McDonald, Joe, “WHO Says SARS Outbreak ‘Over Its Peak’

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