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SARS - The real problem

by Rob Hayter

t is a little-known fact that, apart from the serious task of developing a cure or antidote to SARS, one of the earliest problems was what to name the virus. SARS was finally settled on, with its clumsy double adjective, after it became clear that announcing to the world that it was about to be consumed by ARS was deemed problematic. Politicians quickly suggested that the misleading implication that Armageddon was to be caused by a giant pair of buttocks would lead to mass hysteria and strongly requested that medics rename the disease.

And so Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome gained its moniker and as scientists the world over focused their efforts on prevention and cure, administrators moved into top gear to keep the populace informed. As is always the case, a new vocabulary soon sprang up to enable the global message to be understood by all.

One of the first SARS-isms was "Severe ARS-load". This adjective derives from the Americanism, ass-load, and is used to describe the extent of the problem caused by the virus. Severe ARS-load is officially classed as "...more than a butt-load but less than a shit-load", and is often appended by "of sufferers", "of cases", or "of patients".

A common reaction amongst Asians was to wear a mask, but very soon supplies of said masks ran out and people resorted to using brassieres and/or bandannas. The generic "Sanitary ARS-cloth" serves to group all these lower-face coverings together.

One of the most damaging aspects of SARS has been the reaction by the many thousands, nay millions, of people who have cancelled their holidays to the Asian countries that reportedly suffered the greatest number of victims. Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand, for example, are reporting record lows in visitor numbers. These "non-tourists" are classed as "Severe ARS-wipes" after the action of wiping their diaries clear of holidays. Clearly, the financial ramifications are huge. The aforementioned countries have fragile economies and rely heavily on tourism as the number one industry. Budgets will have to be re-written and are to refer to the deficit as a "Severe ARS-hole". Whether the IMF or WTO will step in with a financial "plug" is purely conjecture at this time.

At the time of writing. only one other SARS-ism has been officially sanctioned. It is to be used to refer to the spin doctors of, predominantly, Canada and China who are heavily engaged in "Severe ARS-licking" in an attempt to play down the ongoing problem in their countries.

Research into the source of the epidemic has narrowed to the Civet Cat and the Chinese predeliction for eating said feline. A previous rumour that SARS was a plan to increase tourism to South East Asia that backfired horrendously has been quashed. Deng Sore Dat, of Dalat Vietnam, admitted that his "friend's" Elvis-like sighting of a collection of Russian Royal males in the Valley of Love was a hoax designed to increase business at his swan-pedalo rental company.

Rob Hayter - 5th June 2003, Osaka. E-mail the author.


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