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Ross: What the SARS outbreak taught us about coronavirus

The SARS outbreak of the early 2000s taught us a lot. (Getty Images)

How long it will take to contain this virus? There may be a clue in its name.

The CDC’s official name for the virus itself is SARS-CoVID-2. Basically SARS Coronavirus 2.0.

Which means this virus is genetically similar to the first SARS virus that appeared in Southern China back in 2002.

SARS stands for Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome. And if we look at how that outbreak unfolded: The CDC went into emergency mode in March of 2003 with quarantines and travel restrictions, and in the end there were 29 confirmed cases in the U.S.

No Americans died, and the outbreak was declared over in July, four months later.

This time is different, in that the new virus has milder symptoms – which is good – but that also means it was able to spread undetected for longer.

By the way, we were warned about this. Chinese scientists three years ago traced the origin of the SARS virus to a cave colony of horseshoe bats in Yunnan province near a small village, and predicted there would be another outbreak.

It’s an unfair world, isn’t it? We could eliminate greenhouse gases, conquer poverty, even teach ourselves portion control, only to be laid low by some unhygienic bats.

There is beauty in biology – but it is hell-bent on term limits.

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