The international response to the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) outbreak, from March to July 2003, tested the assumption that a new and emerging infection-one that had not yet demonstrated its full epidemiologic potential but was spreading from person to person and continent to continent -could be prevented from becoming endemic. Within 4 months after the first global alert about the new disease, all known chains of transmission had been interrupted in an outbreak that affected 27 countries on all continents. Most public health experts and scientists believe that the question of whether SARS has become endemic, or will re-emerge, can only be answered after at least 12 months of post-outbreak surveillance. This document discusses the lesson made clear by the SARS experience in its early course: inadequate surveillance and response capacity in a single country can endanger national populations and the public health security of the entire world. As long as national capacities are weak, international mechanisms for outbreak alert and response will be needed as a global safety net that protects other countries when one nation's surveillance and response systems fail. The document concludes that protection against the threat of emerging and epidemic-prone diseases requires strong defense systems at national as well as international levels.
Emerging Infectious Diseases (February 2004), v.10, no.2, p. 173-175