Public Health Emergencies

Public Health Emergencies

Looking back at the disease outbreaks that have occurred in the past is a good barometer for assessing the public health personnel’s preparedness in handling similar future incidences. That is the case given that from these previous disasters it is clear that the public health professionals’ response is not without blemish despite its strengths. Such deficiencies are intolerable in the contemporary world because their recurrence can be disastrous. As such, this report aims at analyzing the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) outbreak and the role played by public health in stopping it. Central to the scrutiny are several issues that are worth noting. They include the chain of command, the method of response, public health issues related to medical care of the SARS victims and risks as well as merits and demerits of communicating the SARS situation to the public and media.

Chain of Command and Method of Response

In a public health emergency, the expectation of the chain of command used is one that is clear and preferably epitomizes a bottom-up approach. Such is the case given that this type of approach prevents the duplication of activities and ensures there is maintenance of order in response to the situation. However, in the SARS outbreak of 2003, the chains of command utilized in many affected countries like China were far from the ideal standards. They had no clearly defined chain of commands, and this derailed their efficiency in halting the outbreak (Oberholtzer, Sivitz, Mack, Lemon, Mahmoud, & Knobler, 2004). In the USA, however, there existed a clear chain of command. The state departments of public health had the obligation of reporting new cases to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The CDC would then evaluate the cases and offer instructions on what management strategies to adopt for the cases (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2013). Consequently, this flow of communication enabled the control the spread of SARS in the USA soil.

In response to the SARS outbreak, the public health sector in the USA undertook a multidisciplinary approach within the country and in the global center stage. Such an approach ensured that every medical professional played a significant role in preventing the transmission of the condition in the country. The organization of the medical personnel was in teams, which targeted one response area. The response areas included but not limited to clinical care as well as infection control, diagnostic and laboratory studies, information management, quarantine matters, and epidemiology of the SARS. Additionally, some of the teams had the responsibility of engaging in international efforts of responding to the emergency and carrying out of subsequent research (Oberholtzer, et al., 2014). With such a response framework, it is apparent that the USA through the CDC had the much-needed surety of preventing the spread of SARS.

Public Health Issues Related to Medical Care in SARS

The medical care of SARS necessitated the use of some of the public health principles in the treatment of the condition. Therefore, several public health issues surface from the medical care of this situation. A case in point of a public health issue related to the medical care is the utilization of the SARS case isolation and quarantine measures.

Primarily, reporting of cases to the CDC was an important component of the clinical care of SARS victims. Such a disease surveillance practice enabled the medical professionals to treat the SARS cases upon confirmation by the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2013).

Additionally, the clinical care demanded that health care professionals practice isolation and protocols given that SARS is a contagious disease with high transmission rates in the absence of such measures. The utilization of isolation measures was a common feature for treating persons with the illness (Cetron, Maloney, Koppaka, & Simone, 2004). Such reliance on isolation measures ultimately paid off as it facilitated the cessation of the SARS transmission, which was desirable in these circumstances.

Finally, health care professionals also utilized quarantine protocols in the medical care of SARS patients. Quarantine strategies mainly targeted to restrict activities of healthy persons that were exposed to the SARS but were not confirmed cases. Such a practice ensured monitoring of the close contacts of cases to establish the development of sign and symptoms that would necessitate isolation measures (Cetron, Maloney, Koppaka, & Simone, 2004). Consequently, this intervention optimized the success rates of containing the SARS situation.

Public Health Risks, Merits, and Demerits of Communicating SARS Situation

The public and media received information about the SARS situation from the CDC and WHO on a continual basis during the 2003 outbreak. Such an informational role undertaken by the CDC and the WHO has its fair share of public health risks, advantages, and disadvantages that are worth mention.

Primarily, the public health risks of frequently communicating to the public and media are inaccurate information, public phobia, and confusion. Incorrect information was an imminent risk since the media as a secondary source of information sometimes included or omitted vital information. Such inaccuracy plus the horrifying nature of the news released about the SARS situation propagated phobia among the publics. Confusion was also another consequence of open communication (O’Malley, Rainford, & Thompson, 2009). During the SARS outbreak, the absence of a single source of information further resulted in a state of confusion among the public since they did not know which source to trust. Evidently, with such instances, it is beyond question that open communication enormous public health implications.

One advantage of communicating to the media and public during public health emergencies like SARS outbreak is increased awareness about the condition. The direct communication about the SARS situation forged an awareness of the condition among the public, which resulted in increased vigilance to the isolation protocols that were central to the management of SARS (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2013). Furthermore, communicating the SARS situation was also advantageous given that it helped remove fear among the public. The SARS outbreak led to increased concern among the public since who wanted information on how to protect themselves because the condition had no cure. That notwithstanding, relaying of information to the public and media helped demystify the misconception that this was an Asian person’s disease (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2013).

Lastly, regardless of the advantages that open communication in public health emergencies bears, it poses significant challenges. Such is the case as evidenced by the propulsion of fear due to communicating about the SARS situation during the early stages of the outbreak. Furthermore, the practice also led economic loss of affected countries due to the travel bans imposed (O’Malley, Rainford, & Thompson, 2009).


In closure, this discussion aimed at analyzing the SARS outbreak of 2003 and drawing public health lessons from it. Indeed, it is apparent that a clear chain of command and public health communication strategy are all central to the success of the management of emergencies like SARS. As such, going forward, the public health professionals must incline decisions on such lessons if at all they are to succeed in their pursuit of containing such emergencies. However, failure to do so will only lead to a repeat of the mistakes observed in the SARS outbreak of 2003.


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,. (2013). Remembering SARS: A Deadly Puzzle and the Efforts to Solve It| About | Retrieved 24 February 2017, from

Cetron, M., Maloney, S., Koppaka, R., & Simone, P. (2004). Isolation and quarantine: containment strategies for SARS 2003. Learning from SARS: Preparing for the Next Disease Outbreak, 71-83.

O’Malley, P., Rainford, J., & Thompson, A. (2009). Transparency during public health emergencies: from rhetoric to reality. Bulletin Of The World Health Organization87(8), 614-618.

Oberholtzer, K., Sivitz, L., Mack, A., Lemon, S., Mahmoud, A., & Knobler, S. (Eds.). (2004). Learning from SARS: Preparing for the Next Disease Outbreak–Workshop Summary. National Academies Press.