Certainties and uncertainties facing emerging respiratory infectious diseases: lessons from SARS

J Formos Med Assoc. 2008 Jun;107(6):432-42. doi: 10.1016/S0929-6646(08)60150-3.


Every emerging infectious disease is a challenge to the whole of mankind. There are uncertainties regarding whether there will be a pandemic, if it will be caused by the highly pathogenic H5N1 influenza virus, when or where it will occur, how imminent or how severe it will be. No one can accurately predict if and when a given virus will become a pandemic virus. Pandemic prevention strategies must be based on preparing for the unexpected and being capable of reacting accordingly. There is growing evidence that infection control measures were helpful in containment of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) as well as avian influenza. Compliance of standard infection control measures, intensive promotion of hand and respiratory hygiene, vigilance and triage of patients with febrile illness, and specific infection control measures are key components to contain a highly contagious disease in hospital and to protect healthcare workers, patients and visitors. The importance of standard precautions for any patient and cleaning and disinfection for the healthcare environment cannot be overemphasized. SARS illustrated dramatically the potential of air travel and globalization for the dissemination of an emerging infectious disease. To prevent the potential serious consequences of pandemic influenza, timely implementation of pharmaceutical and non-pharmaceutical interventions locally within the outbreak area is the key to minimizing global spread. Herein, we relate our perspective on useful lessons derived from a review of the SARS epidemic that may be useful to physicians, especially when looking ahead to the next epidemic.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Communicable Diseases, Emerging / prevention & control*
  • Communicable Diseases, Emerging / therapy
  • Humans
  • Infection Control
  • Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome / prevention & control*
  • Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome / therapy
  • Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome / transmission