SARS scare

The worldwide outbreak of SARS in late 2002 and 2003 killed 774 people, most of them in Hong Kong and mainland China, and damaged several Asian economies. In recent weeks China has reported several new cases, most of them traceable to a 26-year-old medical student who became sick in March while working in a SARS lab at China’s Institute of Virology in Beijing. Another graduate student at the same lab became infected April 17.

All of this comes just as China is about to celebrate a weeklong May Day holiday during which there will be greater than usual use of public transportation. In addition, there have been four nonlab cases of the disease in the Chinese province of Guangdong. Researchers must take extraordinary precautions in dealing with virus samples. Officials should investigate why the infected lab workers did not immediately report that they had fevers. They should also explore why the infected patients were not more quickly identified and isolated. Research on treatments, vaccines, and improved diagnostic tests is crucial to keeping the disease at bay.

But institutes like Beijing’s owe it to both their workers and the population that the most stringent biosafety standards are maintained in the laboratory and that all lab workers strictly adhere to reporting requirements if they become ill. — The Boston Globe