Remembering SARS – 10 Years Later

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In the 2003 global disease outbreak, what became known as SARS-CoV started as a mystery illness—without name, origin, or cure. Public health scientists across the globe scrambled to understand and contain this health threat.CDC began working with the World Health Organization (WHO) in late February to investigate and confirm outbreaks of an unusual pneumonia in Southeast Asia. As WHO led a global effort to understand the illness and how to prevent its spread, questions outnumbered answers. At the time, all that was known about the new disease was that people quickly become severely ill and that it could be fatal.

Personal Reflections
Rima Khabbaz

Rima F. Khabbaz, MD

During the 2003 SARS outbreak, Dr. Khabbaz was the Associate Director for Science in the former National Center for Infectious Diseases (NCID), which led the CDC SARS response.

CDC epidemiologists Daniel Feikin and Fujie Xu at a fever clinic in Beijing, 2003

CDC epidemiologists Daniel Feikin and Fujie Xu at a fever clinic in Beijing, 2003

Bottom row (left-to-right): then EIS officer Weigong Zhou, Anne Schuchat and Ning Fang (Beijing CDC). Top row (left-to-right) Changya Li and Shen Zhuang, both Beijing CDC. Shen Zhuang directed emergency response for the Beijing CDC during the SARS response and was lead author on their report of a SARS superspreader.

Bottom row (left-to-right): then EIS officer Weigong Zhou, Anne Schuchat and Ning Fang (Beijing CDC). Top row (left-to-right) Changya Li and Shen Zhuang, both Beijing CDC. Shen Zhuang directed emergency response for the Beijing CDC during the SARS response and was lead author on their report of a SARS superspreader.

World Health Organization China Office – team lead meeting, May 2003. CDC’s Anne Schuchat, MD, is seated at the head of the table (near right).

World Health Organization China Office – team lead meeting, May 2003. CDC’s Anne Schuchat, MD, is seated at the head of the table (near right).

The coronavirus derives its name from the fact that under electron microscopic examination, each virion is surrounded by a “corona”, or halo. This is due to the presence of viral spike peplomers emanating from its proteinaceous envelope. SARS is one of the most infamous of the coronaviruses.

The coronavirus derives its name from the fact that under electron microscopic examination, each virion is surrounded by a “corona”, or halo. This is due to the presence of viral spike peplomers emanating from its proteinaceous envelope. SARS is one of the most infamous of the coronaviruses.

This transmission electron micrograph from a tissue culture isolate reveals a number of severe acute respiratory (SARS) virus particles, which are members of the family Coronaviridae.

This transmission electron micrograph from a tissue culture isolate reveals a number of severe acute respiratory (SARS) virus particles, which are members of the family Coronaviridae.

This colorized scanning electron micrograph (SEM) reveals the “rosettelike” appearance of the matured SARS-CoV (coronavirus) particles (arrows).

This colorized scanning electron micrograph (SEM) reveals the “rosettelike” appearance of the matured SARS-CoV (coronavirus) particles (arrows).

Deborah Cannon, CDC, processes SARS specimens.

Deborah Cannon, CDC, processes SARS specimens.

This photomicrograph reveals lung tissue pathology due to SARS.

This photomicrograph reveals lung tissue pathology due to SARS.

This image depicts CDC researchers as they review incoming SARS data using a SPB diagnostic laboratory computer workstation in the foreground, while in the background, the data entry is being carried out.

This image depicts CDC researchers as they review incoming SARS data using a SPB diagnostic laboratory computer workstation in the foreground, while in the background, the data entry is being carried out.

SARS Blog
Scott F. Dowell

Scott F. Dowell, a pediatric infectious disease specialist by training, now focuses his work on global public health as director of the Division of Global Disease Detection and Emergency Response at the CDC Center for Global Health (CGH).

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Coronaviruses are named for the crown-like spikes on their surface. They are common viruses that most people get in their lifetime. These viruses usually cause mild to moderate upper-respiratory tract illnesses.

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Page last reviewed: April 26, 2013