SARS: When a Global Outbreak Hits Home


Early in 2003, a previously unknown, but highly communicable disease was reported in Asia. First identified as atypical pneumonia, it became known as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). By July 2003, more than thirty countries worldwide had reported cases of SARS. Most of us do not remember the exact moment that we heard about this new, potentially fatal disease, but the public health leaders of Toronto remember the day, time, and where they were.

Toronto, in the Ontario province of Canada, suffered the worst outbreak outside of Asia. Because it is a city known for its diversity, it is not surprising that SARS was spread to Toronto by an international traveler. It is precisely this aspect of the outbreak that makes all communities vulnerable and emphasizes the need for increased surveillance, communication, and preparedness. Join us as we discuss the tremendous efforts of Canada's public health professionals, health care workers, and civic leaders to contain the outbreak and protect the health of their citizens now and in the future.


  • Identify the basic components of the public health response to suspected SARS cases in a community.
  • Describe the disease reporting process when SARS is diagnosed in a community.
  • Describe three strategies used to prevent the spread of SARS and similar communicable diseases.
  • Identify three issues that should be considered in a SARS preparedness plan.


Public health leaders and professionals from local and state government agencies, hospitals, clinics, boards of health, community-based health organizations, academic institutions, federal agencies, and others who seek to learn lessons from the 2003 SARS outbreak response and prepare for future disease outbreaks.

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