Researchers think that some people may be more susceptible to SARS than others, and that some may be “Super Spreaders”?Typhoid Mary types who are able to spread SARS rapidly to others. 26-year-old flight attendant Esther Mok is one of these. She went to Hong Kong to shop but came home with SARS, and spread it to over 100 people in Singapore, killing both of her parents and her pastor.
Mok was very sick when she was admitted to a Singapore hospital on March 1st, but SARS had not yet been identified as a new virus. She had regular visits from her family and her pastor, and no one realized they were exposing themselves to SARS. Her father, mother and pastor have since died of SARS. Her uncle is in intensive care, and her grandmother and brother are also sick but are in stable condition. Not only that?almost all of the 118 reported cases in Singapore can be traced back to Mok. “Esther Mok infected the whole lot of us,” says Singapore health minister Lim Hng Kiang.
Two other “super spreaders,” Canadian Kwan Siu-Chiu and American Chinese businessman Johnny Chen, got SARS while staying at the Metropole hotel in Hong Kong and have helped spread the illness around the world. Unlike Mok, both of them died. “We don’t know why some people are able to spread it so easily and some don’t,” says Chew Suok Kai, Hong Kong health ministry’s director of epidemiology and disease control.
Experts from the Centers for Disease Control are going to Singapore to try to figure out how the “super spreader” phenomenon works. “There are so many things we want to know about this disease but don’t know yet. One of the key things we are working on is how the super-spreader spreads,” says Chew.
“Typhoid Mary,” whose real name was Mary Mallon, infected dozens of people with typhoid in the New York area in the early 1900s, but wasn’t affected by it herself. She was forced by the government to live alone on an island. Mok is living alone in a hospital room and communicates with the outside world mostly by telephone. She wasn’t able to attend the memorial services of her parents. Deliveryman Gary Sivalingam says, “I feel sorry for her but you might wonder whether Singapore would be so badly affected had she not been in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
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