On this week’s Dreamland, science reporter Linda Howe gives us a special report on SARS. It’s spreading fast, and health officials now admit they don’t have any effective medicine to treat it. An entire apartment building has been infected in Hong Kong, raising fears that SARS can be spread through the air, rather than by droplets from sneezing or coughing, the way most viruses spread. Dr. Julie Gerberding, head of the CDC, says, “The global epidemic continues to expand. We recognize this as an epidemic that is evolving.”

Taiwan has cut its physical links to China, Toronto has closed a second hospital, and in Singapore, nurses will meet all incoming flights to check for sick passengers. Singapore’s Health Minister Lim Hng Kiang says, “Based on the latest information, this disease is more infectious than we thought.”

In a panic, many of the residents of the affected Hong Kong apartment building have moved out. “I’m scared. I’m taking my temperature every day,” says one woman. “It’s terrifying. I think I’ll get it sooner or later.”

Gerberding says, “We have no evidence that any specific antiviral, steroid treatment or other agents that are targeting this virus have any benefit to patients.” So what can we do? Wash your hands, health officials advise. Since viruses are commonly spread by touching surfaces that have been previously touched by sick people, you should do this every time you come in from outside. Gerberding says, “Coronaviruses can survive in the environment for up to two or three hours?so it’s possible that a contaminated object could serve as a vehicle for transfer to someone else.”

One reason SARS is spreading out of control is that China kept the severity of the disease secret for at least a month, in order to save face. “We are desperate to know more about the scope and the magnitude of SARS in China,” Gerberding says. “It’s the biggest predictor of where this will be headed in coming weeks.” Student Karen Cheung says, “I feel so helpless. I may get infected in the next second. Why do we need a war when something so small can kill us?” We agree. While we’re as concerned about the latest war news as everyone else, we’re shocked at how the spread of SARS in the U.S. is being downplayed. We may find ourselves in the middle of an epidemic any day now and we’ll be left wondering how it happened.

We’d better keep on top of the news about SARS, since it’s certainly something that doctors don’t tell you.

To see photos of the quarantined Hong Kong apartment building,click here.

To learn more,click here and here.

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