The disease that emerged in Asia late last year, SARS, is a moving target, according to Vincent J. Quagliarello, M.D., HS ’81. “Every day,” he told an audience at this year’s medical school reunion, “there is something new reported in The New York Times from somewhere around the world.”

What is known about SARS, said Quagliarello, professor of medicine and clinical director of the Section of Infectious Diseases, is this: it is a previously unrecognized member of the well-known coronavirus family which causes about a third of the cases of the common cold. It was first reported last November in China and, in very short order, swept across three continents. Infections travel through close person-to-person contact, mostly among family members or health care workers. Symptoms include fever, headache, myalgias, a dry cough and shortness of breath. Although only about 8,500 people worldwide have been infected, SARS has a mortality rate of 9 percent and it has provoked fears around the world. The resulting economic impacts have been devastating for Asia and Toronto. China and South Korea have lost about $2 billion in tourism, retail sales and productivity. Hong Kong, Taiwan and Singapore estimate losses at $1 billion each.

Major league baseball players were advised to avoid crowds in Toronto, where thousands of people were quarantined. All over Asia people donned protective face masks. In Singapore, Quagliarello said, the Catholic Church suspended confessions and granted a general forgiveness.

SARS, he continued, is a sign of globalization. “Within weeks SARS has spread over three continents to cause a devastating impact on our societies,” he said, adding that there is a bright side. “At the same time, however, investigators from over 10 countries have collaborated to identify the virus, screen for potential antiviral therapies and initiate vaccine development.”