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Whatever happened to… SARS?

A nurse is shown wearing protective clothing at Sunnybrook Hospital in Toronto on March 17, 2003.
A nurse is shown wearing protective clothing at Sunnybrook Hospital in Toronto on March 17, 2003. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Kevin Frayer

On this episode of the Global News podcast Whatever Happened To…?, journalist Erica Vella revisits the SARS epidemic that gripped parts of Canada in 2003.

This year has been an unprecedented year as the world battles the COVID-19 pandemic, but 17 years ago, parts of the world faced another coronavirus — Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, better known as SARS.

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Erica Vella looks back at the SARS epidemic and explains how one superspreading event brought the virus to Toronto, where health-care workers were among the hardest hit.

READ MORE: More Canadians have now died of coronavirus than SARS

Sylvia Gordon was working in the critical care unit at Scarborough Grace Hospital in 2003 and there was one day in early March that she recalls vividly.

“I was doing a day shift — a 12-hour day shift — we had trouble staffing and I stayed on for an extra hour or so,” she said.

“Just as I was on my way out the door, I heard deep snoring. I thought, wow somebody is in trouble. I went in the room and sure enough, the patient was having like a cardiac arrest. So I put my bag down and called a code and we began resuscitating him.”

READ MORE: SARS 10 years later: How has the health care system changed?

At the time, Gordon had no idea that the patient she was resuscitating had SARS and she was now infected with the virus.

“Initially I thought I was coming down with the flu. It was, you know — you’re coughing and you’re feeling lethargic, running the temperature and just body pain, aches and pains all over,” she said.

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READ MORE: Looking back: Toronto’s 2003 SARS outbreak

Gordon called in sick and explained what she was feeling.

“I was told ‘gosh, you know, you’re not the first one. We’ve been getting a number of calls from other colleagues that they’re not able to make it to work, that they’re ill.’ And then I started figuring out, well, maybe we contracted something. So I started calling my colleagues and then they described the same symptoms.”

In Canada, there were 438 probable and suspect SARS cases reported and there were 44 deaths that included three health-care workers.

Globally, the virus killed more than 800 people.

Erica Vella finds out what changes were made following the SARS epidemic to protect health-care workers in Ontario and most importantly, if it helped in the battle ahead with COVID-19.

Contact:

Twitter: @ericavella

Email: erica.vella@globalnews.ca

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