World health authorities dealing with potentially devastating disease epidemics must be prepared to instigate draconian containment measures like quarantining to prevent further outbreaks like China's SARS, a UNSW researcher has found.

A re-analysis of the 2003 Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome outbreak by Associate Professor Mary-Louise McLaws from the School of Public Health and Community Medicine (SPHCM) and the Beijing Health Bureau shows containment could have happened faster if rudimentary spot mapping of the outbreak had been applied at the outset and the capital, Beijing, quarantined.

The epidemic, which began on the Chinese mainland in early 2003, centred on Beijing and went on to affect 8,000 people in more than 30 countries.

The Chinese government selected UNSW to collaborate on the re-analysis because of the University's close ties to the country and the region.

The findings will be presented at an SPHCM seminar on Wednesday 8th August.

The re-analysis found spot mapping, a technique first developed by Lord John Snow in 1854 to combat cholera outbreaks in the UK, could have identified specific geographical areas for quarantining if it had been employed at the outset by local health authorities.

Professor McLaws believes the mapping, combined with initial analyses using several initial definitions of what constituted a suspected SARS case, may have given authorities a ten-day head start on recognising the disease and restricting its spread.

"There are lessons here about how to handle the next outbreak whatever that happens to be," Professor McLaws says.

What: Grand Rounds Seminar, School of Public Health and Community MedicineWhen: 8th August, 2007Where: Room 305, level 3, Samuels Building, UNSW Upper Campus, Kensington

Media Contacts: Steve Offner, UNSW Media Office, tel: 9385 1583, mob: 0424 580 208.

Date issued: 7th Aug, 2007