On February 11, 2003, the Chinese Ministry of Health first informed the World Health Organization (WHO) that 305 cases of a severe atypical pneumonia had occurred in the Guangdong Province in southern China. But on February 10, the word had already gone out on the ProMED-mail listserv, an unofficial worldwide e-mail network for swift reporting of emerging infectious diseases.

The Guangdong pneumonia outbreak has now been linked to the cases of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) that spread from the mainland to Hong Kong, Vietnam and countries around the globe, prompting WHO's first global outbreak alert in a decade. But conjecture about a connection between the two outbreaks began early in ProMED-mail, whose multiple daily updates include official and anecdotal reports, insights about symptoms and epidemiology, suggested avenues of investigation and cautionary commentary by specialist moderators.

"What prompted us to start this listserv was a concern about the ability to...

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