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The outbreak of SARS may owe more credit for its success in propagating to politicians than to its stoic survivability and evolutionary means of transmission. We’ve known about diseases like SARS for a long time. In fact, over the past 40 years, deadly flu-like viruses have been fodder for a healthy quantity of popular fictional works and even a Star Trek episode or two. Like any epidemic preceding it, SARS has become a very political disease. Being labeled as a “hot-spot” for a virus like SARS has severe political and economic impact on a community, and becomes a banner under which politicians lobby to defend their domains or attack those of others.

SARS has become a bone of contention between the world’s two most closely tied trading partners, the US and Canada. Fears of unchecked growth, and a slow moving Office of Public Safety in Ontario have fueled the flames of paranoia and created significant impediments to Canada, particularly to Toronto.

These are the figures for the US: http://www.cdc.gov/od/oc/media/sars.htm

These are the figures for Canada: http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/pphb-dgspsp/sars-sras/cn-cc/numbers.html

Despite the early clustering of cases in Toronto, the primary outbreak of SARS was quite easily thwarted within the Canadian health care system, which offers protection and treatment with no-questions-asked to all. In a country like the US, where illegal residents are plentiful (particularly in the Asian community) and where one fifth of the nation’s population has no access to health care, will SARS cases necessarily be treated? Or worse, will any substantial number of these cases even be reported? Most illegal aliens in the US are loathe to seek medical treatment, even from the spartan public hospital system, for fear of deportation.

Could this be the straw that breaks America’s back on the Health Care issue? You wouldn’t know it to read the news. The CDC in the US has published numerous statements that SARS is under control in the US, and so the US Media have focused on the outbreak in Toronto, thus exacerbating Canada’s economic woes.

But with 60 million people in America without healthcare, does the CDC really have a handle on the problem, or is SARS — or another virus like it — a time bomb waiting to explode?

-Ian.

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