Publication details [#11097]

Verghese, Abraham. 2003. The SARS epidemic: The metaphor of blight. URL
Publication type
Article in journal
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(Beginning of article) China’s shame, Hong Kong’s misfortune, America’s good luck — this is how we in America seem to view the disease severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), an illness caused by a virus whose genetic vocabulary neither encodes for such adjectives, nor recognizes sovereign boundaries. Indeed, the tendency to ascribe metaphors to disease (as Susan Sontag pointed out some years ago) is a uniquely human enterprise, absurd on the one hand, and inevitable on the other. Such metaphors take root and hold sway; they dictate our emotional responses to a disease. Thus, the cancer metaphor is historically (and quite unfairly) one of failure, or personal weakness — cancer happens to the Hubert Humphreys of the world, to the perennial runners-up. The metaphor of tuberculosis, by contrast, is that of unbridled passion affecting sensitive souls such as Keats. (Abraham Verghese)