Reports of a new severe respiratory disease, now defined as severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), began to emerge from Guangdong, in southern China, in late 2002. The condition came to international attention through an explosive outbreak in Hong Kong in March 2003. Cases appeared throughout South-East Asia and in Toronto, the spread of SARS being accelerated by international air travel. A global emergency was declared by the World Health Organization, bringing together an international team of epidemiologists, public health physicians and microbiologists to study and contain the disease. This response has enabled the nature of the infectious agent to be identified, its mode of transmission to be established and diagnostic tests to be created rapidly.