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Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS)

SARS was first identified in February 2003 in Asia. SARS originated from the Guangdong province of southern China. The outbreak lasted for about six months and spread to more than two dozen countries around the world. There were around 8,000 confirmed cases and 774 deaths before the disease was controlled in July 2003.

Image of SARS through a microscope

Credit: Center for Disease Control and Prevention

SARS transmission among humans tends to happen in health care settings through close contact. Symptoms are flu-like and include fever, headache, diarrhea, and shivering. Severe cases develop rapidly, progressing to respiratory distress and requiring intensive care.

SARS was quickly determined to be a zoonotic disease. Investigators familiar with a wide variety of animals tested more than half a dozen animal species in the Guangdong province and its markets. They found evidence for the virus in civet cats. Once civet cats were seen as the carriers of the virus, thousands were killed. However, there was still doubt about if they were the natural carriers.

Eventually, bats were determined to be the original hosts. All bat species in the area showed evidence of SARS-like viruses without being sick.

Masked palm civet

Credit: Kabacchi

Map of countries with case(s) of SARS, 2003

Credit: Logan Museum of Anthropology

SARS was contained and eliminated through international collaboration. People were isolated and quarantined until the virus passed out of their bodies. By July 2003, the only SARS cases came from isolated laboratory outbreaks where SARS was being studied.

Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19)

Almost 20 years later, a cousin of SARS has gripped the world. At the end of 2019, The Wuhan Municipal Health Commission in China reported a cluster of pneumonia cases in Wuhan, Hubei province. COVID-19 is a novel coronavirus and was officially declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO) on March 11, 2020. 

Transmission electron micrograph of SARS-CoV-2

Credit: NIAID

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the virus causing COVID-19 

is not the same as the coronaviruses that commonly circulate among humans and cause mild illness, like the common cold. COVID-19 is caused by a coronavirus called SARS-CoV-2.

Protege y Respeta

Credit: Shepard Fairey / The City of L.A. and Studio Number One / LA Mask Print Project

Protect & Respect

Credit: Shepard Fairey / The City of L.A. and Studio Number One / LA Mask Print Project

SARS-CoV-2 appears to spread mainly from person to person through respiratory droplets produced when a person coughs or sneezes. The spread of COVID-19 is more likely when people are in close contact with one another, which is why it is recommended people stay at least six feet away from one another and wear masks. Everyone is at risk for contracting COVID-19.

Anti-Mask Protesters at Pennsylvania Capital, May 15, 2020: THE NEW SYMBOL OF TYRANNY / MUZZLE

Credit: CNN

Map of countries with case(s) of COVID-19 as of July 2020

Blue: Countries reporting any cases of COVID-19

Yellow: Countries not reporting cases of COVID-19

Credit: CDC

A major peak of the pandemic hit worldwide on April 30, 2020, with around 80,000 new cases and 10,000 deaths. As of July 2020, there are 15 million confirmed cases, 8.5 million recoveries, and 618,000 deaths.

Coronavirus and the Racist History of Pandemics 

In addition to a viral pandemic, there is a pandemic of anti-Asian racism. This racial pandemic is similar to what happened during the 2003 SARS outbreak, and perpetuated by people and governments that weaponize the virus to fit racist, nationalist, and xenophobic narratives.

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