Chapter 3

The Crisis Junkie Team

In early March 2003, a 78-year-old woman boarded a flight in Guangdong Province in China en route to her home in Toronto. What she didn't know was that before she left, her lungs had been infected with a new and deadly virus: severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS). Back in Toronto, she succumbed quickly to the disease and died quietly at her home. Tragically, before she died, she infected her son. When he got sick, he took himself to the local hospital. He, too, fell victim to the disease, but only after infecting other patients and several members of the staff. A crisis had begun.

Before public health officials really knew what was going on, grieving families and unsuspecting bystanders had spread the disease throughout the city. Carriers who didn't realize they were sick spread the virus to healthy individuals through contact at doctors' offices, church services, and even a funeral home. Even after the virus had been identified, at one hospital alone nine staff members were infected in a single day as they worked to save the life of a SARS patient.

Hospitals plunged into emergency mode. After staff members who'd followed all safety guidelines got infected, it was clear that typical protocols and standard-issue face masks wouldn't stop the highly virulent disease. Hospitals locked down. Staff members at every door filled out detailed accounts of people's movements and took everyone's temperature before allowing them into the building. I was ...

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