It’s hard to go through April without recalling the worries of the Spring of Fear nine years ago. April 2003 was when we all feared that a new disease named Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) would become a devastating pandemic.
SARS killed 800 people around the world, 44 in Canada, before disappearing in the autumn. We all breathed easier, although medical experts still warn that there will be other serious outbreaks created by new or mutating existing bugs.
Since then, there has been an important developing change in how public health thinks about viral outbreaks. Nine years ago, public health reacted to SARS, as they had with previous influenza pandemics, attacking full force, eventually winning, and then going back to business as usual. Now, however, there are indicators that public health will do more to predict outbreaks and work to prevent them.
A major force behind the change is Dr. Nathan Wolfe of Stanford University and founder of Global Viral Forecasting, which specializes in early detection and control of epidemics. He also is author of The Viral Storm: The Dawn of a New Pandemic Age published late last year.