SARS had a relatively high mortality rate, but it just so happened that it wasn't easy to catch. Swine flu is the opposite: easy to catch, like any seasonal flu, but with a mortality rate no higher than seasonal flu for most people.
HONG KONG - When word came in April that an entirely new, highly infectious disease--swine flu--was spreading beyond Mexico, this was the most paranoid city in the world. Land at the airport with a fever and runny nose, and you'd risk being quarantined for a week, just in case you'd brought the new disease with you.
People in this city, scarred by the SARS epidemic, still shudder when they hear someone cough. For Hong Kongers, the sound brings back memories of the scary time when the city nearly shut down and residents feared death from a new mystery disease. Schools were closed. When people left their homes--which wasn't often--many wore medical masks to reduce their exposure to anyone who might be sick.
Fast-forward. If you catch the flu in Hong Kong today--or in most places--you won't be rushed to the isolation ward just in case it proves to be the new swine flu. You'll be told to go home and rest and not cough on anyone. "Everyone has finally realized that this is going to spread," said Dr. Anthony Mounts, a flu specialist at the World Health Organization.
What a change.
That's because SARS and swine flu are proving such opposites. Both are new diseases, which means that none of the 6 billion people on the planet had immunity to them when they came on the scene. The World Health Organization feared that if they developed into full-blown pandemics and raced around the world, millions would die, defenseless against new strains.