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Looking back: Toronto’s 2003 SARS outbreak – Global News

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A new coronavirus, which emerged in December from China, has drawn comparison to the 2003 outbreak of SARS.

Here, Global News looks at how SARS affected Torontonians nearly 20 years ago:

What is SARS?

The SARS coronavirus, or Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, is thought to be a virus from an animal reservoir that spread to other animals and first infected humans in Guangdong, China in 2002, according to the World Health Organization.

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The epidemic resulted in more than 8,000 cases in 2003 and affected 26 countries, one of which was Canada.

In Canada, there were 438 probable and suspect SARS cases reported, which included 44 deaths.

Start of the virus and its transmission to Toronto

SARS first infected humans in the Guangdong province in southern China in 2002.

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A 65-year-old doctor, who had treated atypical pneumonia patients in Guangdong, travelled to Hong Kong to attend his nephew’s wedding. When he checked into the hotel he was staying at, he didn’t feel well. The doctor ended up infecting at least 12 others from several different countries, including a 78-year-old Canadian woman.

The woman returned to Toronto from Hong Kong on Feb. 23, 2003. Two days after she got back home, she developed a high fever. She visited her family doctor five days later, and by that time, she was also complaining of muscle aches and a dry cough.


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The woman’s condition continued to deteriorate, and she died at home on March 5, 2003. Two days later, her 44-year-old son went to the Scarborough Hospital, Grace Division’s emergency department to complain of a high fever, a severe cough and difficulty breathing.

The man was kept in the open observation ward of the emergency department for 18 to 20 hours, but by the next day, his condition had deteriorated significantly, and he was admitted to intensive care.

The woman’s son died on March 13, 2003, and by this time, several other family members were also sick.

“It was then clear that there was a cluster of illness in that family, and at about the same time, the outbreak was recognized in Hong Kong,” said Allison McGeer, an infectious disease consultant at Sinai Health System, who was at the forefront of the Toronto outbreak.

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On March 12, 2003, the World Health Organization issued a global alert about “cases of atypical pneumonia.”

In Toronto, the virus continued to spread to others, including hospital staff

Public health response

On March 13, 2003, Health Canada was notified of the Toronto cluster.

SARS continued to spread throughout the Scarborough Hospital, which led to it closing its emergency and intensive care services on March 23 and to refusing new patients and transfers from other hospitals. Anyone who entered the hospital after March 16 was asked to adhere to a 10-day home quarantine.

On March 25, 2003, the Ontario government designated SARS as a reportable, communicable and virulent disease under the Health Protection and Promotion Act, which allowed public health officials to track infected people and issue orders to prevent them from engaging in activities that might transmit the illness.






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What the coronavirus is, and is Canada ready for it?


What the coronavirus is, and is Canada ready for it?

One day later, Ontario’s then-premier Ernie Eves declared SARS a provincial emergency. Overnight, the province’s ministry of health and long-term care required all hospitals to create units to care for SARS patients. The province also activated its multi-ministry provincial operations centre for emergency response.

All hospitals in the Greater Toronto Area and Simcoe County were instructed to activate “Code Orange” emergency plans, which meant that the involved hospitals suspend non-essential services.

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They were also required to limit visitors, create isolation units for possible SARS patients and to implement protective clothing for exposed staff. Four days later, officials implemented the access restrictions on all hospitals in Ontario.

Looking back and forward

Looking at Toronto’s 2003 SARS outbreak, McGeer said officials got a lot of things right in the sense that they were able to control it.

“They clearly did enough right things to control the outbreak,” McGeer said. “Some of the things that were done were not necessary, but there was no way of knowing at the time that they were not necessary.”

According to the doctor, one thing that wasn’t necessary was quarantine.

“When we learned more about the disease, it turns out that SARS is among the unusual infections that was not infectious before people got sick,” McGeer said.

“Retrospectively, we needn’t have quarantined all of those people who were exposed.”


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McGeer said officials could have just told people who exhibited SARS symptoms to separate themselves from others.

Another thing that was unnecessary, according to the doctor, was the extent of hospital closures. If officials had data on likely patterns of spread between hospitals, they probably could have managed a different system that would’ve resulted in less hospitals being closed, causing less of a disruption to general care, McGeer said.

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“These are not things where I would say the government should not have done them, but with the wisdom of hindsight, now that we’ve had the chance to look at it afterwards, you can say we didn’t need to do them,” McGeer added.






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A background on the coronavirus and its symptoms


A background on the coronavirus and its symptoms

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HIV/AIDS progress in Brazil

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December 1 is World AIDS Day,  a time to raise awareness and show support for those living with AIDS or HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

Treatment of HIV/AIDS has come a long way since the first cases became public in the 1980s.

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And Brazil is one country that led the way; its pioneering programs to identify and treat patients recognized the world over.

In recent years, however, the country’s progress has shown to be slipping.

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Early RSV season primarily impacts infants

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Dear Doctors: What can I do to protect my baby from RSV? What are the symptoms? People are talking about a “tripledemic,” and it has my husband and me worried. We’re both vaccinated for the flu and COVID-19, and we are being super careful when we’re out and about. What else can we do?

Dear Reader: RSV is short for respiratory syncytial virus. It’s a common winter virus that can affect people of any age. In most cases, RSV infection causes mild symptoms similar to the common cold. However, infants and children younger than 2, whose immune systems are still developing, are at increased risk of becoming seriously ill.

RSV is the most common cause of pneumonia in infants and young children in the United States. It is also the leading cause of bronchiolitis in that age group. That’s a lung infection in which the smallest airways become inflamed and swollen, and an increase in mucus production impedes air flow into and out of the lungs.

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This year, as with the flu, RSV season has arrived early. Hospitals throughout the U.S. are reporting a surge of serious infections among infants and younger children.

The virus enters the body through the airways and the mucous membranes. It can remain viable on hard surfaces — such as a doorknob, night table or dinnerware — for several hours. It can also persist on softer surfaces, such as a tissue or the skin. Someone can become infected by breathing in the viral particles that remain airborne following a cough or a sneeze, or by touching their mouth, nose or eyes after direct contact with contaminated droplets.

Someone who is sick with RSV typically remains contagious for between four and eight days. However, due to their still-developing immune systems, it’s possible for infants to continue to spread the virus for several weeks, even after symptoms of the disease have abated. There is no vaccine for this virus, and no targeted treatments. Prevention relies on the same precautions you use to avoid any respiratory illness. That is, keep your baby away from people who are ill, avoid close contact with people outside your home and be vigilant about hand hygiene.

Symptoms of RSV arise between three and six days after infection. They can include a runny nose, sneezing and coughing, fever, a decrease in appetite and lung congestion that can cause wheezing. These symptoms tend to be progressive, arriving in stages as the body mounts its attack against the virus. But in very young patients, the first, and sometimes only noticeable, symptoms of RSV can be increased fussiness, a decrease in activity and difficulty breathing.

Treatment for RSV consists of managing symptoms. The specific avenue of care depends on a child’s age, general health and symptoms. In infants, treating RSV includes a focus on adequate hydration and remaining alert for any signs of problems with breathing. The majority of RSV infections run their course in a week to 10 days. Parents of younger infants should check with their pediatricians for guidance on treatment, particularly medications. If your child has difficulty breathing, isn’t drinking enough fluids or has worsening symptoms, call your health care provider right away.

Eve Glazier, M.D., MBA, is an internist and associate professor of medicine at UCLA Health. Elizabeth Ko, M.D., is an internist and assistant professor of medicine at UCLA Health. Send your questions to askthedoctors@mednet.ucla.edu, or write: Ask the Doctors, c/o UCLA Health Sciences Media Relations, 10960 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 1955, Los Angeles, CA, 90024. Owing to the volume of mail, personal replies cannot be provided.

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AIDS Memorial Quilt comes to Palm Beach County

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PALM BEACH COUNTY, Fla. — The largest piece of community folk art in the world, a tribute to victims of AIDS, is on display in Palm Beach County.

Now through Dec. 15, three different panels of the NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt, often known as the AIDS Quilt, will be on display at three different Palm Beach County Public Library locations.

The quilt is a giant tribute to the lives of people who have died due to AIDS or AIDS-related causes.

The quilt weighs around 54 tons and was started in the 1980s during the early years of the AIDS pandemic.

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Three different panels of the AIDS Quilt will be on display at three different Palm Beach County Public Library locations through Dec. 15.

The AIDS Memorial Quilt is comprised of nearly 50,000 panels containing 91,000 names of the men, women and children who lost their lives to the immune system disease.

The blocks, which make up the panels, are stitched by individuals in communities across the nation, including one librarian right in Palm Beach County.

Katrina Brockway, a librarian at the Hagen Ranch Road Branch Library, said she feels it brings tragedy a bit closer to home.

Katrina Brockway, librarian at the Hagen Ranch Road Branch Library discusses the AIDS Quilt visit
Librarian Katrina Brockway explains the impact of seeing the AIDS Quilt in person.

“It becomes so much more personal when you see these quilt panels and all of these people who were loved and didn’t have the same opportunity to escape this,” Brockway said. “So you can remember them, what they went through, and what their loved ones have gone through.”

Visitors can see the quilt panels during normal library hours at the library’s main branch on Summit Boulevard at the Jupiter branch and at the west Boca Raton branch.

Click here for the library’s hours and more information on upcoming AIDS events at the library.

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