The 21st century saw the emergence of a new highly contagious disease, Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). In this age of the global village where the world is closely interconnected and highly mobile, this readily transmissible disease has become a worldwide health threat. Within a short span of time, there were outbreaks in many countries around the world with Taiwan being no exception.
Indeed SARS is a cause of alarm and a particularly serious threat. In the first place, its primary causative agent is the extremely dangerous RNA coronavirus. This family of virus is known to undergo frequent mutations, adding unpredictability to future evolutions of outbreak. There is no vaccine, assay, or treatment yet for this newly emerging disease. Health officials can only resort to isolation and quarantine for controlling the spread. Diagnosis is also difficult because the initial symptoms are non-specific and common. At its onset, SARS is often mistaken as a common cold or flu, thus the infected may be delayed in seeking medical care. Early symptoms include fever, sore throat, headache, dry cough, shortness of breath, stiffness, loss of appetite, malaise, confusion, rash and diarrhea. Little is known about the epidemiology and pathogenesis of SARS. Its incubation period, estimated at a maximum of 10 days, allows spread via air travel, leading to outbreaks around the world. SARS poses great challenges to the international public health and calls for collaboration among nations in combating this unknown but rampant disease.