Posted 10:25 a.m. April 19
by Carolyn Polinsky
U-WIRE Washington Bureau
The World Health Organization announced on Wednesday that scientists working across the world in 13 laboratories have identified the virus that causes Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome and will use the knowledge to unravel the pathogen’s genetic code. The cause of the disease is a member of the coronavirus family and it has never before affected humans.
“The pace of SARS research has been astounding,” said Dr. David Heymann, Executive Director, WHO Communicable Diseases programs. “Because of an extraordinary collaboration among laboratories from countries around the world, we now know with certainty what causes SARS.”
Since the cause of the disease is known, scientists will work at creating better tools to diagnose the disease so that patients can determine what stage of it they are in and doctors can gauge how long patients should be quarantined or isolated.
Coronaviruses are known to cause mild to moderate upper-respiratory illness in humans. They have also been linked to respiratory, gastrointestinal, liver and neurological disease in animals, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
SARS is likely spread when a person comes into contact with infectious material, such as respiratory secretions, from a person who has the virus, the CDC has found. Usually those infected by SARS have lived with or cared for someone with the disease. Symptoms of the disease appear within two to seven days and it that is likely the time period when a victim is most likely to pass it on. However, scientists are uncertain as to how long the disease is transmittable.
Indicators of SARS include a very high temperature, headaches, body aches and discomfort and mild respiratory symptoms. Within a week those afflicted with SARS may experience a dry cough and breathing difficulties. The disease is treated the same way pneumonia would be handled.
According to WHO, their have 3389 cases of SARS across the world and the disease has cause 165 deaths. China has particularly been hard hit with 1457 cases and 65 deaths.
The CDC is advising travelers to avoid China, Hanoi, Vietnam and Singapore until further notice. They are recommending that people who have been to these countries monitor their own health for 10 days.
The SARS epidemic is thought to have begun in the southern Chinese province of Guangdong in November. An infected doctor spread it to Hong Kong and it began spreading through air travelers visiting Hong Kong.
In Hong Kong, the Department of Health said that rapid spread of the disease in the Amoy Gardens housing unit might have been caused by the sewage system. Of those infected in the building, 60 percent had diarrhea, while typically 2 to 7 percent of patients have diarrhea.
According to the CDC, as of April 17, 208 suspected SARS cases were reported to the organization from 34 states in the United States. The CDC believes only 35 of those people were actually afflicted. Thirty-three had traveled to mainland China, Hong Kong, Singapore, or Hanoi.
Two weeks ago, President Bush signed an executive order that allows health officials to forcibly quarantine those affected by the disease.