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For Immediate Release
Contact: Media Relations, (202) 777-2509

New Book Examines History of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) During Second Anniversary of the Deadly Outbreak That Served as the World’s Wake-Up Call

Account Examines Illness from Point of View of Victims and Virus-Hunters

Behind the Mask: How the World Survived SARS, the First Epidemic of the Twenty-First Century
Author: Timothy J. Brookes, in collaboration with Omar A. Khan, MD, MHS

Washington, D.C., January 5, 2005 – Two years ago, before the current threat of an avian flu outbreak; the 21 st century’s first major epidemic, Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, or SARS, swept across Asia, infecting more than 8,000 people in nearly 30 countries and killing nearly 800 following an outbreak that started in southern China.

Author Tim Brookes examines the origin and development of the century’s first new fatal disease organism in “Behind the Mask: How the World Survived SARS, the First Epidemic of the Twenty-First Century,” published by the American Public Health Association. From the outbreak, medical experts have collected insights into how to prepare against current global threats, including pandemic flu and bioterrorism.

Brookes conducted months of research, traveling to China and Canada, interviewing with health experts, such as World Health Organization officials, to compile a chronological narrative of the progress of the virus. The disease ushered in changes to how the world reacts to infectious disease – SARS was particularly difficult to diagnose, given its propensity to mask itself behind the symptoms of other diseases.

“Behind the Mask is a comprehensive and detailed review of the events leading to one of the deadliest and perplexing infectious outbreaks of the decade,” said Linda Simoni-Wastila, Ph.D., associate professor at the University of Maryland School of Pharmacy. “Although chock-full of technical information, it also provides a compelling human dimension as it follows the physicians, epidemiologists, and even the patients as they try to unravel the mystery of the SARS virus.”

APHA Executive Director Georges C. Benjamin, MD, FACP, said emerging diseases, such as SARS, have changed the face of public health and emphasize the need to build a global health care infrastructure to address the risks of future epidemics.

“This book gives an insightfully engaging look into the powerful, tragic lessons that the SARS epidemic taught the world,” Benjamin said. “By interviewing various medical experts and reconstructing history, Mr. Brookes ably chronicles this public health crisis and the permanent impact it had on our global health infrastructure.”

Dr. David Heymann, former executive director of communicable diseases for the World Health Organization and one of the medical experts interviewed for the book, said SARS magnified the need for cooperation among countries with different cultures to exchange information to fight infectious diseases.

“With SARS, every country agreed to collaborate. That’s incredible,” Heymann said. “I think there’s an understanding that you need all countries to be a little bit disciplined, to follow the same case definition if we’re ever to have this common concerted action.”

Brookes has written books on asthma and hospice care and is a regular essayist for National Public Radio. He teaches in the professional writing program at Champlain College in Burlington, Vt. He was born in London, England, and educated at Oxford University. His other books on medical subjects are “Catching My Breath,” a first-person account of an asthmatic’s struggles to understand and control his illness, and “Signs of Life,” an account of Brookes’ mother’s death under hospice care.

Ordering Information: Published by the American Public Health Association, 2005, ISBN: 0-87553-046-X, 268 pages, softcover, cost is $27 ($21 for APHA members), plus shipping and handling. To order, call toll free (888) 320-APHA; fax (888) 361-APHA; e-mail or visit APHA’s Web site:

Please send your request for a review copy on letterhead to APHA Publications Marketing, 800 I Street, NW, Washington, D.C. 20001-3710, or fax to (202) 777-2531. Author Tim Brookes is available for interviews. To schedule an interview, contact Sabrina Jones, 202-777-2509 or

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