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How popular perceptions of risk from SARS are fermenting discrimination

BMJ 2003; 326 doi: (Published 26 April 2003) Cite this as: BMJ 2003;326:939
  1. Justin Schram (, masters student of medical anthropology
  1. Institute of Social and Cultural Anthropology, University of Oxford

    While scientists have been struggling to find the causative pathogen and mode of transmission of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), popular perceptions about SARS have been forming in decidedly unscientific ways.

    The media saturate us with images of east Asians wearing masks

    In Boston and New York city false rumours of infection proliferated faster than the microbe itself. An insidious April fool's hoax surfaced on a Massachusetts Institute of Technology website warning of infected employees at a restaurant in Boston's Chinatown. Exaggerated by mouth and email, rumours soon alleged that there was widespread contagion in the district. Meanwhile, in New York City a healthy Vietnamese owner of a Chinatown restaurant confronted the unsettling details of his own death through consolatory phone calls, online postings, and the local newsprint (New York Times, 4 April). Businesses in both communities …

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