Public health measures can contain SARS, two modeling studies suggest

The SARS virus is contagious enough to cause a very large epidemic if left unchecked, but could nonetheless be controlled with rigorous public health measures, two research teams report. These results are being released today by the journal Science, published by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).

Both teams used data about recent SARS cases to make projections about how the epidemic will proceed under various circumstances. They found that the SARS virus seems to be moderately rather than highly contagious and could thus be controlled by careful interventions that, for example, reduced contacts by infected people, or helped them receive treatment more quickly.

In one of the studies, U.S. and Canadian researchers used their model to investigate how effective different control measures could be. The possibilities they considered -- including early case detection, reducing each patient's infectiousness, and quarantine -- could all have major impacts on the epidemic, especially when used in combination, the scientists found.

The second study, by U.K. and Hong Kong researchers, focused specifically on Hong Kong, and found that public health efforts currently seem to have brought the epidemic under control. Reduced contact rates in both hospitals and the community were primarily responsible for this success, with rapid hospitalization playing a less important role, according to study.

"It's difficult to predict, this early on, how an epidemic will spread, especially when it's caused by a previously unknown virus. Modeling studies like these -- while preliminary -- suggest that we are headed in the right direction to stop the epidemic," said Caroline Ash, a microbiologist and Science editor working in Cambridge, U.K.

"Modeling studies can give us important information about the quantitative aspects of the epidemic -- how many people are infected, on average by each case; how many people would pot

Contact: Kathy Wren
American Association for the Advancement of Science

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