The SARS Epidemic in Perspective
Medical Author: Frederick Hecht, MD
Medical Editor: Barbara K. Hecht,
PhD and Leslie J.
Schoenfield, MD, PhD
June 6, 2003 --The epidemic that has captured far and away the most media attention in 2003 is clearly SARS: severe acute respiratory syndrome. The SARS epidemic is justifiably frightening. But, to put such matters in a public health perspective, where would SARS be on an epidemic scorecard? .
A scorecard, based on data from the World Health Organization in 2003, might read as follows:
- Tuberculosis: 8 million new
cases and 2 million deaths a year. A third of the world population has TB.
Drug-resistant incurable strains on the rise.
- Malaria: 300-500 million new
cases and a million deaths a year. Drug-resistant forms are increasing.
- Hepatitis B: 10-30 million new cases and a million deaths a year from hepatitis B, a leading
cause of cirrhosis, liver cancer, and liver failure.
- Diarrheal diseases: 2.7 billion new cases and 1.9 million deaths, mainly of children, per year from
typhoid, E. coli, and other agents of diarrhea.
- HIV/AIDS: 5.5 million new cases of HIV infection and 3.1
million deaths a year from AIDS.
- Measles: 30 million new
cases and nearly 900,000 deaths a year. Measles (also called rubeola) is
entirely preventable with a vaccine that costs 26 centsand has been available since
- Dengue fever: 20 million new
cases and 24,000 deaths a year from this mosquito-borne disease.
- Influenza: 3-5 million new
cases and 250,000 deaths a year.
- Yellow fever:
200,000 new cases and 30,000 deaths a year.
- SARS: About 8,000 cases and perhaps 800 deaths from SARS to date this year.