Our leaders love to keep us in a state of terror (it's handy for the undemocratic removal of civil rights). First there was the threat of bioterrorism, then Saddam Hussein was going to attack us, and now it's the SARS virus that is about to cripple the West.
We're all gripped by this sense of terror. In France, we've heard of several cases where suspected victims have been imprisoned against their will while, in the USA, a man was stabbed to death last week after he sneezed.
Apart from the politicians, scares like SARS are good for the media, for the pharmaceutical industry and for face-mask manufacturers (we hear the N95 is the fashion statement to be seen with).
Yes, SARS is nasty, yes, it has killed some people, but the time is long overdue when it was put into some sensible perspective. So far, around 3000 cases around the world have been reported to the World Health Organization (WHO) in the past six months, and, at the time of writing, there have been 119 deaths. This suggests a mortality rate of 4 per cent, which is the same as pneumonia. Deaths have occurred among the elderly, and those with compromised immune systems.
By comparison, the annual 'flu epidemic causes up to 5 million severe cases, and around half a million deaths, with a mortality rate of between 8 and 10 per cent. In Canada, which has just come out of the world's isolation ward after being fingered as the new SARS-infected zone, around 75,000 people go to hospital, and 7000 people die, every year as the result of flu or pneumonia.
So why is SARS grabbing the headlines? Virologists say it is caused by a new, and mutating, strain of a coronavirus, which is a cofactor in spreading the common cold. But just as half of all AIDS patients have never been HIV-positive, so only 30 per cent of SARS victims have the new strain of virus. Conversely, 20 per cent of people from Asia with mild flu symptoms had the new virus, which suggests it is not as virulent as others would have us believe.
Coronaviruses are not new, of course, and they have been replicating since man first sneezed. So what makes the SARS version so different? Simply because there's a theory going around that it has 'jumped' the animal/man divide. Unfortunately, there is absolutely no evidence to support this theory, and others have posited that it is a mutant strain of the measles and mumps virus, or that it is the result of exposure to pesticides, or that it is the result of cooking with canola oil.
Perhaps it is none of the above, but is just another flu strain, and a remarkably innocuous one at that.
In the meantime, doctors are pushing drugs on the elderly (hey, it's not just the face-mask manufacturers trying to make a buck here). The drugs, of course, don't work, so may we instead suggest a regime of high-dose vitamin C or A, lysine or ultraviolet therapy, all of which have been scientifically proven to successfully treat the coronavirus. Herbal medicine can offer Rosa nutkana and Amelanchier alnifolia, both from the Rosaceae family.
One reader also suggests intravenous injection with a 0.01355% saline solution of food-grade hydrogen peroxide. There's evidence, some of it suppressed, to prove the virus-killing capabilities of oxygen, but it's a therapy that should be carried out in consultation with a qualified therapist.