The recent Gulf War which was fought as much in Iraq as in the media. It was our first war in the Internet era. The protests against the war in different parts of the world wer co-ordinated through the Net. Now, another development highlights our “small world”. Writes David Kirkpatrick in Fortune: “SARS demonstrates yet again how tiny our interconnected world has become. The epidemic, and our perception of it, are both very much a function of the Internet age.”
There is also a silver lining to it all. Adds David: “Even as certain risks grow greater in a connected world, so are remedies more at hand. The same Net-enabled system that set off the extra-loud alarms also allowed researchers worldwide to identify and decode the genetic sequence of the culpable virus in mere weeks. Unprecedented cooperation among labs in many countries-all linked together by the Internet-was the key to this quick work. It’s likely that similar cooperation will lead to effective treatments and perhaps a vaccine-much more quickly than in times past.”
On a related note, the NYTimes has a detailed look at how the SARS virus originated and spread:
In early January, alarmed health departments in Shunde, Heyuan and Zhongshan all reported the strange pneumonia clusters to Guangdong provincial authorities, who concluded that they were facing a highly infectious pneumonia caused by a previously unknown agent.
It is unclear whether that conclusion was passed on by provincial officials to the Ministry of Health in Beijing, or ever reported to international health agencies that might have conducted an early investigation into the problem. Instead, it would be another two and a half months before the strange pneumonia had a name, coined only after an Italian doctor working in Hanoi, Vietnam, alerted the World Health Organization about a similar new pneumonia he was seeing there.
And it would be three and a half months before China’s leaders would admit that their country had an epidemic of SARS. From January through the middle of March, doctors in Asia and Canada were encountering patients carrying a virulent and highly contagious germ, unaware that they were facing potentially lethal infection.
During that period, hundreds of health workers fell ill. During that period, well-meaning doctors were placing SARS patients in ordinary wards as they would patients with normal pneumonia and those patients were passing the infection on to hundreds of others.