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Carlo Urbani
Carlo urbani.gif
Born (1956-10-19)19 October 1956
Castelplanio, Italy
Died 29 March 2003(2003-03-29) (aged 46)
Bangkok, Thailand
Cause of death SARS
Education University of Ancona
Known for Identifying SARS
Medical career
Profession Physician
Institutions Médecins Sans Frontières
World Health Organization
Research Infectious diseases, parasitic diseases

Carlo Urbani (Italian: Script error: No such module "IPA".; 19 October 1956 – 29 March 2003) was an Italian physician and microbiologist and the first to identify severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) as probably a new and dangerously contagious viral disease, and his early warning to the World Health Organization (WHO) triggered a swift and global response credited with saving numerous lives. Shortly afterwards, he himself became infected and died.

Medical career

Urbani graduated with a medical degree in 1981 from the University of Ancona and specialized in infectious and tropical diseases from the University of Messina. He subsequently earned a postgraduate degree in tropical parasitology.

Urbani started volunteering for the African endemic disease cause since young joining the Italian Catholic NGO Mani Tese. In 1987 Urbani went to Ethiopia for one month. In 1989 he was primary aide in the infectious diseases department of Macerata, Italy. After years working in the epidemic medicine field, in 1993 he became an external consultant of the World Health Organization.

In 1996, he joined Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) and moved with his family to Phnom Penh, Cambodia for a year. Upon his return to his workplace in Macerata, he became president of the Italian section of MSF. He also helped launch a campaign against multinational pharmaceutical companies that keep up the price of indispensable medicines against AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis. In 1999 he was part of the delegation that received the Nobel Peace Prize awarded to MSF. With the prize money, Urbani decided to create a fund to promote an international campaign for access to essential medicines for the world's poorest populations.

SARS outbreak

Back in Asia, Urbani was called into The French Hospital of Hanoi, Vietnam, in late February 2003 to look at an American patient, businessman Johnny Chen, who had fallen ill with what doctors thought was a bad case of influenza. Urbani realized that Chen's ailment was probably a new and highly contagious disease. He immediately notified the WHO, triggering a response to the epidemic (principally isolation and quarantine measures) that would end it within five months. He also persuaded the Vietnamese Health Ministry to begin isolating patients and screening travelers, thus slowing the early pace of the epidemic.

On 11 March 2003, as he flew from Hanoi to a conference in Bangkok, Thailand, where he was to talk on the subject of childhood parasites, Urbani started feeling feverish on the plane. A colleague who met him at the airport called an ambulance. Urbani had contracted SARS while treating infected patients in Hanoi. His Bangkok hospital room became an improvised isolation ward, and communication occurred via an intercom. As his lungs weakened, he was put on a ventilator. During a moment of consciousness, Urbani asked for a priest to give him last rites and asked for his lung tissue to be donated for scientific research. Urbani died on 29 March 2003, after 18 days of intensive care.

SARS-CoV Urbani strain later became the reference variant of this outbreak.

Personal life

Urbani married Giuliana Chiorrini in 1983, and in 1987 their first child, Tommaso, was born. He had two more children.


National honours

ITA OSI 2011 Uff BAR.svg
3rd Class / Knight: Cavaliere dell'Ordine della Stella d'Italia: 28 May 2020
Benemeriti della salute pubblica gold medal BAR.svg
Medaglia d'oro per i benemeriti della Sanità Pubblica: 7 April 2003

Foreign honours

  • Vietnam Friendship Order ribbon.png Friendship Order: 7 April 2003

See also

Kids robot.svg In Spanish: Carlo Urbani para niños

  • Li Wenliang, was reprimanded for warning colleagues about the COVID-19 pandemic and later died from the virus.
  • Liu Jianlun, Chinese doctor who died from the virus SARS-CoV-1, is believed to have been a super-spreader during an event in Hong Kong.
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