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Science - Reuters
Killer Virus Elusive, but Findings Fuel Hope -WHO
1 hour, 12 minutes ago
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By Carrie Lee

HONG KONG (Reuters) - The World Health Organization (news - web sites) (WHO) said on Sunday a killer pneumonia virus had yet to be conclusively identified but new findings have fueled hopes the globe-trotting disease could be curbed.

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Slideshow Slideshow: WHO Warns of Pneumonia-Like Illness


Hong Kong researchers said on Saturday they had isolated the virus, found it to be a new one, and designed the first diagnostic test, meaning patients with severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) can be identified, and therefore treated, much faster.

On Sunday the WHO praised the Hong Kong's team's findings but sounded a note of caution.

"The race to identify the SARS causative agent is by no means over. Although the virus has now been isolated, its identity remains elusive," the global body said in a statement.

The virus, spread around the world by air travelers, is believed to have killed 13 people and infected about 400 people in about a dozen countries. The majority of cases are in Hong Kong.

Controlling its spread has been a headache for health authorities and airlines, which have introduced screening procedures for passengers showing any flu-like symptoms.

The illness begins with a high fever, dry cough, chills, and severe breathing difficulties. A healthy and athletic adult can end up on a respirator within five days.

The majority of cases are medical workers who have been in close contact with patients or victims' family members.

"What we are trying to prevent is the cases going from family members and health workers to others who are not in the family. If that would occur, it would be a community outbreak," the WHO said on its Web site ( last week.

Fears of a wider outbreak have risen in Hong Kong after health officials said two people who worked in the same office as a patient were infected at work.


The WHO said researchers around the world are trying to pin down the family the virus belongs to. Identification will help researchers develop a vaccine or specific cure.

Scientists in Hong Kong, Taiwan, Germany and Canada, identified viruses taken from patients as paramyxoviruses, a large family of microbes that includes germs that cause measles, mumps and respiratory infections.

The WHO said other research groups in the network of collaborating labs were producing hints the virus might belong to another family but also expressed hope of bringing the epidemic under control.

"In less than a week, they (researchers in the world) have produced results which, in other circumstances, would likely have taken months or more. This rapid advance is fueling the hope that SARS can and will be contained," the WHO said on their Web site.

The University of Hong Kong researchers said on Saturday they had designed the world's first SARS diagnostic test, which detects a patient's antibodies, which could confirm between five to 14 days after infection that the victim had the disease.

Hong Kong doctors have been treating patients with ribavirin -- an anti-virus drug -- and steroids. They say the regimen works for most patients if treated early.


Currently, doctors diagnose a patient with SARS only by looking at symptoms and tracing the victim's history of contacts and response to antibiotics, the researchers said.

Hong Kong Hospital Authority director Ko Wing-man said on Sunday one more patient had died in Hong Kong, bringing the death toll in the city to eight. The number of infections in Hong Kong rose to 247 on Sunday, including 242 suffering full-blown pneumonia.

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