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The acronym is short for “Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome”. Much medical and media attention has focused on this mysterious new disease in the fortnight since Gro Harlem Brundtland, the director of the World Health Organisation, took the unusual step of issuing a warning. However, press coverage has been muted because of the war with Iraq. As of 2 April 2003 it had claimed a total of 78 lives, with at least 2300 people infected in 23 different countries. The disease — also named super pneumonia because a life-threatening pneumonia is a major symptom — is causing concern because of the ease with which it can spread at close quarters. Its cause is as yet unknown, although a virus is strongly suspected, most probably a previously unrecognised member of the coronavirus family; despite some press reports, it isn’t a form of influenza. It’s thought the illness may have began in Guangdong Province in China some months ago, and the greatest impact on the public has been in South-East Asia, especially in Hong Kong. As a result, another name that has emerged for it this week is Asian pneumonia.

SARS is believed to be the first new, often life-threatening disease to emerge in decades that can be spread from one person to another.

Washington Post, Mar. 2003

SARS has been tentatively identified as a virus similar to those which cause measles, mumps and canine distemper.

The Scotsman, Mar. 2003

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Copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–. All rights reserved.
Page created 5 Apr. 2003

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The English language is forever changing. New words appear; old ones fall out of use or alter their meanings. World Wide Words tries to record at least a part of this shifting wordscape by featuring new words, word histories, words in the news, and the curiosities of native English speech.

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Last modified: 5 April 2003.