About SARS in Southeast Asia (2002)

Quite a few of our friends around the world have contacted us to express their concern about the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) outbreak in the news, and about own health. We are happy to tell you we are all perfectly healthy.

As you are part of our Utopia family, we want to give you the latest news about SARS. In summary, it is an outbreak about which all intelligent travelers should keep themselves informed and against which they should be quietly vigilant. Considering the unwarranted degree of public hysteria and frenzy of media hype that has arisen surrounding SARS, please allow us to help put a few things into perspective.

The good news is that much of Southeast Asia, including practically all the places we send our guests, are completely unaffected.

From the eye of the SARS storm we do not share the hysteria of the media about SARS. In China and Hong Kong, the most densely populated place on Earth, the situation is indeed grim. However, SARS should not be a good reason to avoid most of the rest of Asia. While we are not doctors or actuaries, we believe the chance of exposure to SARS in Indochina is practically none. We are not too worried about our own health and we do not believe visitors who uses common sense (e.g., staying away from people who are obviously ill and washing their hands regularly) have any reason to worry.

First the Good News

CNN's headlines on 29 April included "SARS Finished in Vietnam." WHO removed Vietnam from its list of affected areas the same day, essential giving that country a clean bill of health.

On the same date, WHO proclaimed that "SARS has plateaued" in all affected areas except China.

CNN's story of 21 May: "Spitting outlawed in China."

WHO spokesperson on 12 June: "SARS under control in China."

No country in which Purple Dragon operates is currently (12 June) experiencing a SARS outbreak.† WHO has a list of 'affected areas', which it defines as countries that have reported one or more cases of local transmission of SARS within the last 20 days.† Only 5 countries are currently on this WHO list: China (including Hong Kong and Taiwan), Singapore, the United States and the United Kingdom.

There have been no reported cases of SARS in Cambodia, Laos, or Myanmar. Two people who contracted SARS in other countries have died in Thailand. However, there have been no known cases of new infections reported here, thanks in part to the immediate intervention of health officials. Although some of the first SARS cases were in Vietnam, these were comparatively few and restricted to Hanoi. As one doctor friend working for the World Health Organization (WHO) said off the record: "For reasons which are unclear, SARS appears to have burnt itself out in Hanoi."

A few things you should know about SARS

⋆ Itís not a flu at all. In fact, SARS is caused by a coronavirus, which is more closely rated to pneumonia and the common cold.

⋆ Most of the casualties in Hong Kong had pre-existing conditions and had compromised immune systems. The rest died because they did not get treatment right away.

⋆ You are at risk of contracting SARS only if you have close, unprotected contact (caring for, living with, or having direct contact with respiratory secretions and/or body fluids) with someone who has, or is suspected of having, the illness.

⋆ Like most viruses, SARS has already mutated several times. Many scientists believe it could weaken each time it is passed along.

⋆ With early treatment, most people who contract SARS recover and return to normal. Only about 5% of those who are infected and become ill actually die of SARS.

⋆ A Virus dies without a carrier. Some scientists estimate the SARS virus stays alive about three hours. It is also believed the virus dies when the air temperature reaches 27 degrees C. While weather in Southern China was a balmy 25 degrees during the peak of  SARSMania, April was the hottest month in Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, and Myanmar, where temperatures top 33 degrees. One British researcher working in Hong Kong believes the virus is killed by ultraviolet light.

⋆ There have been an estimated 350 SARS deaths in China so far, a far cry from the Flu of 1918, which killed four million people. As of 12 June there have been fewer than 800 SARS deaths throughout the world. What you don't hear on TV or in your local newspaper is that 6402 people have recovered from SARS.

⋆ According to U.S. Center for Disease Control (CDC), almost one hundred people die of flu every day in the United States alone. (In fact, itís the 7th leading cause of death in America.) Of these, about 30 die of acute respiratory problems. In Hong Kong, 251 people died between November 1, 2002 and 19 May 2003.

⋆ In any large country there are hundreds of pneumonia sufferers at any given time, of which several dozen have some form of atypical pneumonia.

⋆ Things always look worse on TV and the front page of newspapers. The media seem to be getting quite a bit of mileage out of SARS. After all, exploitation of your fear is how they sell newspapers and get you to tune in day after day. Incidentally, 547 people died in accidents on roads and highways in Thailand during the recent Songkran holiday weekend. While horribly tragic (and probably far more avoidable than SARS deaths), it is unlikely that you ever heard a word about this on the evening news because it's simply not sensational enough.

The SARS Score Board

Updated 23 June 2003 - Souce: WHO


Cumulative number of case(s)

Number of deaths

Recovered and Discharged







No new infections in nearly two weeks

Hong Kong

1754 296 1411  

SARS sitiuation considered stabilized and "in decline"


31 163



245 33 182

692 84 486  

Malaysia 8 2











All infections appear to have occurred outside Thailand. Officials claim no local transmissions.



















Viet Nam




No SARS cases in almost four months!


3 0








14 2



5  0


United Kingdom




United States




Updated 23 June 2003 - Souce: WHO

Nurse Darika's SARS Advice


Nurse Darika

Donít stay at home fretting about SARS. While itís not a good idea to spend time in China just now, you probably stand a better chance of dying from a cobra bite than you do becoming infected with SARS in Southeast Asia. If you have been planning a tropical dream holiday, pack your bags and head for the airport. All the pleasures of the East await you and there are bargains galore.

Stay away from people who are obviously ill, especially if they are coughing or spitting. (Even before SARS that was awfully good advice.) You have to get close and personal with an infected person to contract SARS, so keep your distance.

Wash your hands often. Can you imagine what is living on those paws? Never, never touch your face, eyes, or ears with unwashed hands.

Eat from your own plate. It is probably safer to share a bowl of food with your dog than it is with other human beings at the same table. Utensils traveling back and forth between mouths and food can carry all kinds if nasty bacteria and viruses that could infect the food for everyone else.

Wear a mask if it makes you happy (or, as in Darika'scase, makes you even more glamorous.) A few sequins and feathers can make even the drabbest mask into a fashion statement that everyone will be following tomorrow. However, Darika begs you to understand that ONLY masks that filter out particles 3 microns and larger are effective protection against the SARS virus. You may not be surprised when Darika tells you there is a worldwide shortage of those. So, while you might look mighty manly in that mask you picked up at the paint shop, it probably will only protect you from much except from a kiss from Yours Truly.

And if you are sick, please do not bring your ailment on holiday to share with the rest of us.

Yours in health,

Nurse Darika

Comments from our friends

Q. "Thanks for your information about SARS. One question left for me: If I fly into Thailand via Singapore and touch down to change planes - what is to expect at BKK airport?"

A. All passengers coming from China (including Hong Kong) and Taiwan are subject to screening by Thai health authorities even if you only changed planes in one of those places. Screening normally includes includes an interview and a brief health evaluation. Passengers with elevated body temperatures will be subject to additional scrutiny.

Q. "If we mention Malaria,† this kills about 1500 to 2000 people per annum.†You do not seem to hear about this in the papers or the TV do you??????"

A. Darika notes that the BBC did run a one-day story about Malaria in Africa, where about million people die from Malaria each year. About 2000 people die every day in Nigeria alone. Since Malaria is very highly preventable, we think it deserves the same kind of media uproar that SARS has enjoyed. Perhaps poor people dying in Africa do not sell as many newspapers.

We welcome your questions and feedback and will publish selected excerpts here.

WHO: SLOPS Epidemic "Could Surpass SARS"