gms | German Medical Science

International Conference on SARS - one year after the (first) outbreak

08. - 11.05.2004, Lübeck

About this meeting

It is my great pleasure to welcome you to Lübeck for the "International Conference on SARS - one year after the (first) outbreak". The title that we gave this conference is an expression of the uncertainties that are connected with this new infectious disease, which emerged for the first time early last year and made the world hold its breath for several months thereafter. Between February and July, 2003, almost 8500 people contracted the disease and about 800 succumbed to it. Probably the question most asked since the end of the epidemic, both by the public as well as by the experts, is whether or not there will be another outbreak in the future.

When we started planning this meeting in the fall of 2003, many feared that SARS would indeed return during the next cold season (hence we put "(first) outbreak" in brackets in the name we gave this conference). Fortunately, this has not happened to any major extent. There were only four confirmed cases of severe acute respiratory syndrome reported in Southern China around the change of the year, all of which were in fact less severe. On the other hand, as we convene here, SARS has raised its ugly head again in Beijing, and this time the infection chains appear to have originated in a laboratory performing research on the coronavirus that causes the disease. This scenario underscores the fact that a global SARS crisis remains an immanent threat, and there is still neither a vaccine nor a drug available to prevent or treat the disease available.

Encouragingly, very good progress has been made in the past few months of intense research on the SARS coronavirus and its mechanisms of replication and host-cell interaction, and I expect that we will hear a lot at this conference on these achievements. But the meeting will cover much more than the molecular biology of the virus, host-cell responses, vaccines and drug discovery. We will hear reports from practitioners who worked at the forefront of fighting the outbreak last year, and we will discuss the epidemiological aspects, the genome organization and the evolution of the virus, as well as its origin. Newly emerging related and not-so related viruses will also be a topic, as will be the important field of diagnostics. In short, I hope that the next three-and-a-half days will offer something new for every participant.

I am most grateful to all participants for coming, and many of them from far-away places. We have strong delegations from China including Hong Kong, as well as from Singapore and Canada, that is, from the countries that were most hard-hit by the SARS epidemic of 2003. When we started organizing this event, we could not anticipate that so many colleagues from these countries would be willing to travel such a long way, to a country where there were a mere two SARS cases (who were actually travellers from Singapore). So thank you all very much for coming.

Thanks are also due to the Scientific Committee and the Organizing Committee of this conference who were substantial in making the event become a reality. Also, this would not have been possible without our sponsors, who are listed on the following page.

I very much hope that this meeting will be both professionally useful and personally gratifying for all of you!
Rolf Hilgenfeld, Conference Chairman