Summary. In an outbreak of a completely new infectious disease like severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), estimation of the fatality rate over the course of the epidemic is of clinical and epidemiological importance. In contrast with the constant case fatality rate, a new measure, termed the ‘realtime’ fatality rate, is proposed for monitoring the new emerging epidemic at a population level. A competing risk model implemented via a counting process is used to estimate the realtime fatality rate in an epidemic of SARS. It can capture and reflect the time-varying nature of the fatality rate over the course of the outbreak in a timely and accurate manner. More importantly, it can provide information on the efficacy of a certain treatment and management policy for the disease. The method has been applied to the SARS data from the regions affected, namely Hong Kong, Singapore, Toronto, Taiwan and Beijing. The magnitudes and patterns of the estimated fatalities are virtually the same except in Beijing, which has a lower rate. It is speculated that the effect is linked to the different treatment protocols that were used. The standard estimate of the case fatality rate that was used by the World Health Organization has been shown to be unable to provide useful information to monitor the time-varying fatalities that are caused by the epidemic.