SARS Outbreak

The SARS virus, known technically as SARS-CoV (coronavirus). First appearing in China in 2002, the disease spread to 29 countries before it was stopped.
The SARS virus, known technically as SARS-CoV (coronavirus). First appearing in China in 2002, the disease spread to 29 countries before it was stopped.

Historical Context

In November 2002, a mysterious and unknown disease causing severe respiratory problems was discovered in the southern Chinese province of Guangdong, near Hong Kong. A farmer in this district was likely the patient zero of this outbreak, and the disease (later named SARS, meaning severe acute respiratory syndrome) likely made the jump to humans from infected masked palm civets sold at animal markets.

In the early stages of the outbreak, the Chinese government was criticized for the secrecy around the disease. It did not report the outbreak to the World Health Organization until February 2003, did not report information to Chinese citizens outside the original province and did not allow the WHO team in Beijing into Guangdong until late in the epidemic.

The global spread of SARS began with the super-spreader, Zhou Zhoufen, a fishmonger who infected 30 medical staff at a hospital. From there the virus spread around the world. One of the worst outbreaks occurred in Canada, where 251 people were infected.

The SARS virus was particularly deadly, with a fatality rate of around 9% (compared to 0.1% for a deadly seasonal flu), but did not spread as easily as other coronaviruses, like the 2019-2020 pandemic virus. In the end, the disease was contained by the middle of 2004, and no cases have been reported since then.

Photo Info


Location taken: USA

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Related Events

  • 2002-11-16 The first case of SARS is recorded in Foshan City, Guangdong Province, China, though is not identified until much later. First patient is thought to be a farmer in the city.
  • 2003-04-23 Beijing closes all schools for two weeks because of the SARS virus
  • 2003-07-05 SARS is declared "contained" by the WHO after affecting 26 countries and resulting in 774 deaths

Historical Photos