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This paper provides a review of a recently published series of studies that give a detailed and comprehensive documentation of the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) epidemic in mainland China, which severely struck the country in the spring of 2003. The epidemic spanned a large geographical extent but clustered in two areas: first in Guangdong Province, and about 3 months later in Beijing with its surrounding areas. Reanalysis of all available epidemiological data resulted in a total of 5327 probable cases of SARS, of whom 343 died. The resulting case fatality ratio (CFR) of 6.4% was less than half of that in other SARS-affected countries or areas, and this difference could only partly be explained by younger age of patients and higher number of community acquired infections. Analysis of the impact of interventions demonstrated that strong political commitment and a centrally coordinated response was the most important factor to control SARS in mainland China, whereas the most stringent control measures were all initiated when the epidemic was already dying down. The long-term economic consequence of the epidemic was limited, much consumption was merely postponed, but for Beijing irrecoverable losses to the tourist sector were considerable. An important finding from a cohort study was that many former SARS patients currently suffer from avascular osteonecrosis, as a consequence of the treatment with corticosteroids during their infection. The SARS epidemic provided valuable information and lessons relevant in controlling outbreaks of newly emerging infectious diseases, and has led to fundamental reforms of the Chinese health system. In particular, a comprehensive nation-wide internet-based disease reporting system was established.
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