Possibly few people in Venezuela will remember the alarm generated in 2003 by the appearance of SARS-CoV-1, or Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, in several countries in Asia, Europe and America. An infectious disease whose first cases - detected in southeast China, in Guangdong province - were presented as "atypical pneumonia" at the end of 2002, briefly changing the lives of many people around the world.
Although this pandemic lasted less than a year and affected only 26 countries, in Latin America four cases were registered: three in Brazil and one in Colombia; Its rapid spread and high mortality - the percentage of deaths was more than 10% of the total of those infected - generated a worldwide alarm.
In less than a year, between November 2002 and August 2003, of a total of 8.422 people who contracted this virus in the world, according to the final data of the World Health Organization (WHO), 916 patients died, the largest part of them in China.
SARS-Cov 1 and how the pandemic starts
Although the information that is eighteen years after the WHO reported on the presence of a new, deadly and significantly contagious disease, seems to have few details and some contradictions, in this chronological note you will find when, how and where this coronavirus epidemic began. SARS-Cov 1 that later became a pandemic, as well as its development and end.
The first registered case of this new disease for the moment, seems to have originated in Foshan, an industrial town in southern China, belonging to the Guandong province and close to Guangzhou, its capital, on November 16, 2002, causing an epidemic of "atypical pneumonia" in that population. Rapidly the virus spreads even to the city of Heyuan, also in Guandong, and located 200 km from Guangzhou, affecting 152 patients and dying five infected.
On February 1, 2003, two more outbreaks of this disease - still unknown - were detected in Guandong; This time in the cities of Zhongshan and Guangzhou, a seafood merchant was affected, who was later assigned the nickname of "Poison King", because by passing through three hospitals to be examined, he ends up infecting more than ninety health workers.
El Poison king
When he began to feel the symptoms of this disease, "King Poison" is examined in two hospitals: at Zhongshan No. 2, where he infects dozens of health workers, including Dr. Liu Jianlun, a retired nephrologist from 64 years old, who worked occasionally in this health center; and in Guangzhou No. 8, a clinic where the virus also spreads to doctors, nurses and orderlies.
The shrimp and shellfish trader finally enters Zhongshan No. 3 Hospital in very serious condition, with respiratory failure. In this clinical center, he must be intubated to save his life, but while he is being treated, he infects more health workers, including Dr. Cao Hong, the head of Intensive Care at the hospital, and the nurse who has assisted him since his admission. .
The zero patient
Despite his state of health, Dr. Liu Jianlun, who already shows the symptoms of this still unknown contagious disease, travels to Hong Kong on February 21, presumably for a health conference, staying at the Metropole, a hotel frequented by men. from all over the world.
In his stay of just one day, Liu infects a group of guests of different nationalities. According to a WHO bulletin, this doctor, originally from Guangdong province, may have spread the disease to about 16 people who were staying on the same floor, the 9th, and who later end up spreading the virus to different countries.
Three hotel guests required hospitalization in Hong Kong, transmitting the disease to 95 health workers who had direct and indirect contact with him. Others infected with the virus who were in the Metropole Hotel travel to Vietnam, Singapore, the United States, Ireland and Canada.
In less than four months, according to studies by the World Health Organization, there are about 4.000 cases and 550 deaths from an unknown disease so far, related to Liu's stay in Hong Kong.
This doctor, who did not survive the virus, inspired the character of patient zero in director Steven Soderbergh's film "Contagion", released in 2011, a chef who spreads the virus in a Hong Kong casino where people from different countries of the world meet. world, after having contact with a piglet contaminated by a bat that carries the disease.
It is believed that the first human to develop SARS-CoV 1 in Guangdong was a farmer who was infected through a civet, a mammal similar to a cat, but very fat (about 20 kilos), with short legs and fur of gray color —whose meat is highly prized in Chinese cuisine—, which in turn was infected by a bat, according to WHO research.
WHO alerts to a new disease
The presence of this strange, rapidly spreading disease, which doctors in southeast China could only classify as "atypical pneumonia", due to the similarity of the symptoms, had not yet been made public.
It is from the admission, on February 26, 2003, in the French Hospital of Hanoi, in Vietnam, of a person of Chinese-American origin with a picture of severe atypical pneumonia, that what was happening begins to be revealed. This patient had traveled to Hanoi from Hong Kong and stayed at the Metropole Hotel, possibly on the same floor where Dr. Liu's room was located.
The team of specialists from the French Hospital who cared for this 48-year-old man decided to request the opinion of the case from an Italian epidemiologist and infectious disease specialist who also worked for the World Health Organization in Hanoi, Dr. Carlo Urbani, due to the severity of your health condition.
Following the request, Urbani decides to review the patient's history; However, when noticing the numerous cases of workers in this hospital infected with the same disease that this person brought, he decides to make an alert. On March 9, 2003, he met with the health authorities of Vietnam, to whom he explained the seriousness of the situation and the need to prevent the spread of health personnel, the main affected by this virus, with protection barriers.
The authorities implement Urbani's recommendations, who in turn communicates his observations to the World Health Organization. On March 12, 2003, this international body issued the first global alert of this pandemic.
The SARS-Cov 1 pandemic
The epidemic of "atypical pneumonia" in southeast China, specifically in Guangdong province, in February 2003, turns into a pandemic in just a few months. The rapid spread of this virus and the number of countries affected occupy the headlines of all the world's media, attentive to the information that gives the origin of the disease and how to contain its advance.
A cable from the EFE agency, published by the newspaper La Vanguardia on March 27, 2003, reports on the identification of the Asian pneumonia virus. “Scientists from the University of Hong Kong announced today that they have identified the atypical pneumonia virus that arises in Asia, from which (so far) 53 people have died worldwide. The disease has been dubbed "corona pneumonia," since the new virus belongs to the "coronavirus" family, "says the cable.
"The finding will contribute to finding a cure for this Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), which has spread from China to three continents in a few weeks," adds the information note.
China and the coronavirus
In some towns in China, the use of masks and strict quarantine measures had to be implemented for the first time to stop the spread of SARS-CoV 1. The WHO recommendations, very similar to the current ones due to the Covid-19 pandemic, pointed out mainly to avoid traveling to cities and countries where the epidemic was; China's Guangdong province was at the top of the list.
On April 16, the World Health Organization reveals the existence in the Chinese capital of at least 200 undeclared cases of Asian pneumonia, as well as a thousand people under observation for the disease. This finding, plus strong protests in China over strict quarantines, force the Chinese health minister and the mayor of Beijing to resign.
WHO declares the end of the pandemic
Little by little the pandemic was subsiding in almost all the affected countries. In May, the World Health Organization successively raised its recommendation not to travel to Asian countries with the highest presence of people infected by SARS-Cov 1, while China decided on June 1 to declare that it had controlled the disease in its country. .
By that date, a total of 5.329 infections and 336 deaths had been registered in China. On June 17, the World Health Organization considers the expansion phase of the pandemic finished, and on July 6 it declares that SARS is under control worldwide.
The use of protective suits by health workers in suspected cases of patients with SARS-CoV 1 - recommended by Dr. Carlo Urbani - and the fact that infected people only transmitted the disease once symptoms appeared, helped to control the spread of this virus. The strict quarantines in the affected areas and the isolation of patients also did their part to quickly stop this pandemic.