Objectives: To perform a retrospective analysis of the macro-economic impact of the 2003 Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) outbreak.
Methods: As several years have now passed, it is possible to interrogate national statistics that have become available since the outbreak to provide a more accurate estimate of the actual macro-economic impact of SARS. National statistics were examined for anomalies that corresponded to the timing of the SARS outbreak and, where possible, the size of any gain or loss found estimated.
Results: Estimates and models produced at the time of the outbreak suggested that SARS could have a catastrophic effect on the global economy. Our analysis suggests that the scale of the SARS impact on affected economies was far smaller than suggested by contemporary media reports and model estimates.
Conclusions: This exercise holds important lessons for estimating the economic impact of future outbreaks -- such as pandemic influenza -- and measures to control or prevent them. We suggest that further work is needed to develop a more comprehensive macro-economic model able to more accurately estimate the relative cost and effect of a global response to outbreaks of international concern. The implications of our findings are discussed in the light of a prospective influenza pandemic.