Soldiers in a different kind of war

April 1, 2003
Fall 1918This new strain of influenza, later referred to as the Spanish flu or La Grippe, was highly infectious and often led to a virulent form of pneumonia. We now know, of course, that a virus bears the blame. The statistics are unbelievable. One in every five people in the world was infected during the two years that this disease flamed across the globe. Deaths have been estimated at between 20 and 40 million. The influenza pandemic of 1918-1919 which some have called the most devastating epidemic in recorded history robbed more human beings of their lives than did World War I. More died of this disease in one year than in the entire four-year reign of the Black Death in the 1300s. Cemeteries filled up with the graves of young men and women. There were lots of orphans.Springtime 2003 As I write, the world is poised at the threshold of another war. We are nearing the end of President Bushs 48-hour ultimatim to Saddam Hussein. The world is anxiously waiting. Our coalition forces are mobilizing for war.The world is also anxiously waiting for the next development in the saga of another murderous disease caused by a mysterious infectious agent that, at press time, had not yet been conclusively identified. The disease has been dubbed Sudden Acute Respiratory Syndrome, or SARS. Eerily reminiscent of the Spanish flu, it causes cough, shortness of breath, difficulty breathing and pneumonia. Some of its victims are still breathing only with the help of respirators, and too many are no longer breathing at all.Clinical laboratories across the world have been charged with finding out what the agent is. Lab professionals just like you are diligently performing rapid tests for bacteria and viruses. They are culturing bacteria. They are doing special tissue and immunohistochemical stains. They are using the most sensitive, up-to-the-minute DNA technology. They are working around the clock to solve the mystery.By the time you read this editorial, I predict this mysterious infectious agent will have been identified by some of your colleagues, somewhere in the world. A treatment will be found, and the spread of this disease will be stifled before it flares up into another conflagration like Spanish flu or Black Death or AIDS.You clinical laboratorians are soldiers on the front lines of a different kind of war. Weve seen it over and over again just in the last two years, as our world has faced new threats from anthrax, West Nile virus, malaria and smallpox, and as weve prepared our defenses for biological warfare. And now, youre helping to prevent another horrifying pandemic, by identifying its source, and by performing the diagnostic tests that identify its victims. Soldiers in white lab coats.Celia Stevens
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2003 Nelson Publishing, Inc. All rights reserved.