I live in Toronto.
Toronto is a pretty tense city right now. The news of war in Iraq was disturbing enough to be accosted with each day
SARS! It's deadly! It's new! We don't know what causes it! We don't know how it is transmitted! There's no vaccine and no cure! Everyone's buying masks, and avoiding public places!
Alright, I added the exclamation marks. You won't see those in a written news article, generally. Yet, when someone talks about what they heard "on the news", they definitely include that sort of emphasis.
(A quick note here: I am a scientist, trained in microbiology. I work in the research wing of a Toronto hospital, and am required to wear a mask at all times in any hospital building. Am I personally worried about SARS? No. I might feel differently if I were a senior citizen, with existing medical problems. However, even in that case, I'd be more worried about regular pneumonia or influenza than SARS.)
So far, at least in Toronto, they can trace back SARS cases to direct contact with a known infected person. This form of pneumonia is less deadly than many other viral diseases - and we don't have vaccines/cures for most of those ones, either. I wonder how many people have died of influenza or regular pneumonia over the same time period that SARS deaths have been reported
Some people have asked me what they should do to avoid SARS. I tell them the same thing that I'd tell someone who wants to avoid other droplet-borne diseases (like colds, or the flu). WASH YOUR HANDS. Thoroughly (with soap and water, for at least ten seconds.) Often. Before you eat.
The media coverage is both good, and bad. I think it is good for people to have access to information, to be able to make informed choices. (From what I've heard, the fact that the Chinese government did not allow reporting about SARS for several months probably contributed to the spread of the disease.) Yet
Of course, while I think that the media coverage of SARS is overly apocalyptic, I know that we cannot just put the blame there. A recent conference of cancer researchers that was to be held in Toronto was just cancelled (Globe and Mail Story). If we see paranoia from medical researchers like these, how can we expect other people to react? Sure, maybe these researchers did have to deal with concerns of their patients
I don't know what can be done to report issues like SARS in a more balanced way. But I hope that one way or another, the panic over SARS dies down soon.