Unlike the outbreak earlier this year, the next time the disease could take hold in countries without adequate public health systems, says a report by the National Intelligence Council.
While the World Health Organization says all human chains of SARS transmission of were stopped, the virus could still exist in animal populations and be retransmitted to humans, the report says.
"The wave of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) has been overcome, but SARS has not been eradicated," according to reports from the national intelligence officer for economics and global issues. It adds that "many health experts fear it could return again in the fall when cooler temperatures return in temperate areas. We remain vulnerable."
The World Health Organization, the U.N.'s health agency, fears the disease could become seasonal. It urged medical authorities worldwide on Tuesday to launch an influenza vaccination campaign, saying it would help stop confusion in future outbreaks of SARS.
While flu vaccines won't affect SARS, flu and pneumonia symptoms are similar to those of SARS. Immunizing people against flu would reduce the number of cases of that illness, as well as those of pneumonia, and make it easier for doctors to decide whether a patient suffers from flu or SARS, the World Health Organization said.
"Currently, SARS has no vaccine, no effective treatment, and no reliable point-of care diagnostic test," the agency said.
The U.S. intelligence report offers three scenarios that health officials might face in the coming months and years:
1. Developed countries frequented by international travelers experience a new wave of SARS cases, similar to the original outbreak that started in China last November. The first wave infected more than 8,400 people worldwide and killed about 815, mostly in Asia, before subsiding in June.
2. SARS cases pop up sporadically but are detected before the disease can spread.
3. The disease gains a foothold in poor countries in Asia or Africa that lack adequate health care systems. In this case, SARS could cause more deaths than did the first outbreak.
A quick response from national and international authorities is critical to containing the disease, the report says.
SARS disrupted business worldwide but hit Asian economies and people the hardest, the report says. Canada also suffered, with a secondary outbreak in the Toronto area.
"Airlines were the highest profile economic victims, but service industries like tourism and supply chains in industries as diverse as seafood and microchips also were affected," the report says. "The suspicion of Asians as carriers of the disease reduced patronage of Asian businesses and communities in the United States and sparked travel bans against Asian tourist groups and conference participants worldwide."