SARS, MERS and related infection control
The SARS outbreak reminded us of the knowledge gaps in infectious diseases in the field of basic science, clinical medicine and public health. In late 2003, the WHO SARS Scientific Research Advisory Committee concluded with the identification of specific research most needed to better understand the SARS-CoV infection, and to prepare for its possible recurrence. The priority areas include laboratory diagnostic tests and algorithm of diagnosis, amplification of infection in hospital, the role and effectiveness of infection control measures, laboratory biosafety and socio-economic impacts of infectious diseases. While SARS has not returned, the same areas remain on the agenda of infectious disease professionals around the world. In 2012, MERS-CoV, a related coronavirus was reported to cause life-threatening infections in the Middle East. Apart from exposure to infected camels, human-to-human transmission was repeated reported within and outside the Arabian peninsula, which are reminiscent of the previous threats posed by SARS-CoV.
In Hong Kong, Prince of Wales Hospital was one of the heavy battle fields of SARS in 2003. As the teaching hospital of The Chinese University of Hong Kong, faculty and staff members of the university were actively involved in managing the outbreak. In the ensuring years, they have continued to generate and promulgate knowledge on coronavirus infections in both clinical and public health perspectives. The emergence of MERS has again proven the importance of translating research into practice, in Hong Kong and beyond. At CEID, a platform is in place for interdisciplinary research to be developed for understanding the science of SARS-CoV and MERS-CoV, with a focus on its application in prevention and control.
Academic and support staff of CEID are committed to keeping the momentum of research in coronavirus infections, covering SARS as well as MERS, which would be important not just for Hong Kong but the global community. The objectives of the efforts are, to:
- Build knowledgebase in the surveillance, clinical management, prevention and control of SARS and their application in related infections.
- Evaluate the application of different infection control measures for preventing the transmission of respiratory pathogens in the healthcare settings
- Enhance preparedness of the health profession and the community against the re-emergence of SARS and the emergence of MERS-CoV.
- Innovate in epidemiologic research on coronavirus transmission in healthcare and community settings.
The subject of SARS is included in the curriculum of undergraduate and postgraduate programme in medicine and public health, in the domains of infectious disease epidemiology, clinical management, and infection control. In March 2013, a conference titled “SARS – a decade on” was held in commemoration of Hong Kong’s fight against the deadly SARS-CoV. Local and international speakers were involved in this designated forum in sharing the experiences and new knowledge that continued to be accumulated after SARS.
Faculty of the Chinese University of Hong Kong has continued to serve as international consultant on the clinical management of respiratory infections, and infection control practices to guard against SRAS-CoV, MERS-CoV and related microorganisms.
After the SARS outbreak, faculty of the Chinese University of Hong Kong continued to conduct analyses on data collected with an objective of improving future management of SARS and related infections. Between 2004 and 2009, SARS constituted one main theme of research supported by the Research Fund for the Control of Infectious Diseases (RFCID) of the Hong Kong Government. Infection control has continued to be an important focus of coronavirus research. The research foci were/are:
- Application of molecular and proteomic techniques to detect and monitor viral and bacterial infections
- Clinical characteristics, pathogenesis of and immunological response to SARS-CoV infection
- Exhaled air dispersion during application of various forms of respiratory therapy in the clinical setting. .
Professor David Hui
Stanley Ho Centre for Emerging Infectious Diseases
The Jockey Club School of Public Health and Primary Care
The Chinese University of Hong Kong
Prince of Wales Hospital
Shatin, Hong Kong
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