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An animal rights group known as the Nonhuman Rights Project filed lawsuits in three New York courts this week in an...
Researchers have been hot on the trail of the elusive Denisovans, a type of ancient human known only by their DNA and...
Thousands of scientists in the Russian Academy of Sciences (RAS) are about to lose their jobs as a result of the...
Dyslexia, a learning disability that hinders reading, hasn't been associated with deficits in vision, hearing, or...
Exotic, elusive, and dangerous, snakes have fascinated humankind for millennia. They can be hard to find, yet their...
Researchers have sequenced and analyzed the first two snake genomes, which represent two evolutionary extremes. The...
Snake venoms are remarkably complex mixtures that can stun or kill prey within minutes. But more and more researchers...
At age 30, Dutch biologist Freek Vonk has built up a respectable career as a snake scientist. But in his home country,...
- 5 December 2013 11:26 am , Vol. 342 , #6163
- About Us
It's Not SARS--But What Is It?
27 August 2003 (All day)
Five days after Canadian authorities ruled out severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) in an outbreak of respiratory infections in a British Columbia nursing home, questions remain about what exactly has sickened more than 140 patients and employees there. The Canadian researchers who first raised the alarm about a SARS connection (ScienceNOW, 21 August) stand by their findings, and they speculate that a hybrid between the SARS coronavirus and another agent may be involved in the outbreak.
With mild, coldlike symptoms, the outbreak in the Kinsmen Place Lodge in Surrey, British Columbia, never much looked like the severe, highly lethal disease that erupted from Asia last spring. And on 22 August, researchers at the British Columbia Centre for Disease Control and the BC Cancer Agency's Genome Sciences Centre announced that researchers had found in patients chunks of viral RNA, some 1000 base pairs in total, that closely matched the genome of OC43, one of two coronaviruses long known to cause common colds. OC43 is only distantly related to the SARS virus. The World Health Organization (WHO) has endorsed the conclusion that SARS is not involved.
But more alarming findings have come from researchers in Canada's flagship National Microbiology Laboratory (NML) in Winnipeg. NML Director Frank Plummer says his researchers have found some 1000 base pairs of viral RNA in patients that exactly match certain portions of the SARS coronavirus; they have also found SARS antibodies in patients. Plummer acknowledges that the symptoms don't match those of SARS; one explanation is that a hybrid virus is involved, he says. Others have speculated that a mutation tamed the SARS virus. Another possibility is that the NML findings are false positives--although Plummer says this is very unlikely.
The riddle could be solved if the virus's entire genome was sequenced, but so far, researchers have been unable to grow it. Meanwhile, the NML findings raise many questions; for instance, how much of a threat is a weakened SARS virus or a hybrid with OC43?
For now, health authorities have dropped the strict isolation measures appropriate for SARS. Whatever the virus is, says provincial health officer Perry Kendall, "it hasn't done anything nasty." Keeping up the extreme vigilance required for SARS during every respiratory outbreak would be like "putting an ambulance at every street corner."