Debemos prepararnos hoy para el retorno del SARS

Todos los inviernos, millones de personas en todo el mundo que sufren de enfermedades parecidas a la gripe visitan a sus médicos. Algunos pacientes realmente tienen la gripe; otros tienen resfríos u otras infecciones respiratorias, muchas de las cuales también ocurren con mayor intensidad en el invierno. La próxima temporada de gripe tendrá un nuevo elemento: los médicos tendrán que estar alerta a que, ocultos entre estos pacientes, puede haber un pequeño número de personas con SARS o neumonía atípica, una enfermedad respiratoria que también es probable que se dé por temporadas y cuyos primeros síntomas son casi imposibles de distinguir de los de la gripe.

Si hay incluso unos pocos casos de SARS presentes entre los millones de casos semejantes a la gripe que surgirán este otoño, será fundamental identificar y aislarlos para prevenir que se repita la epidemia que asoló a China a comienzos de este año. Pero será difícil detectar estos casos de entre la enorme cantidad de casos de gripe y otras afecciones. Paradójicamente, la mejor manera de que las autoridades sanitarias se preparen para un posible retorno del SARS este invierno es, simplemente, hacer un esfuerzo especial para reducir la diseminación de la gripe y acelerar su diagnóstico.

Esta puede ser una difícil tarea desde el punto de vista político. Desgraciadamente, aunque no era difícil suponer que ocurriría, el notable éxito de las iniciativas que en todo el mundo se han llevado a cabo para controlar la transmisión del SARS (particularmente en Taiwán y China continental) ha hecho que algunos se pregunten si la amenaza del SARS había ``sido exagerada''. Pero la razón misma por que nos podemos dar el lujo de hacer preguntas como ésa es que el avance de la infección se contuvo mediante medidas excepcionalmente drásticas.

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