On February 21, 2003, an ill physician traveling from China's Guangdong
Province spent 1 night on the ninth floor of a Hong Kong hotel. During the
next 24 hours, this individual would infect more than a dozen other hotel
guests and visitors.1 Within days, these guests
would transmit their infections to health care workers and family members
in Hong Kong, Vietnam, Singapore, and Canada, providing a vivid illustration
of the rapidity and ease with which infectious diseases can spread and marking
the start of the global outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS).
One of the first persons to recognize the potential gravity of the situation
was Carlo Urbani, an infectious disease physician working for the World Health
Organization (WHO) in Hanoi. Urbani observed that a patient who had recently
arrived from Hong Kong had a highly transmissible form of atypical pneumonia,
and he promptly alerted WHO officials. His swift actions to investigate the
cause of the illness and implement infection control measures proved effective
in helping to limit the spread of the illness in Vietnam, the first affected
country to stop its outbreak. Tragically, his heroic actions exposed him to
the disease that claimed his life.
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