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5 December 2013 11:26 am ,
Vol. 342 ,
At age 30, Dutch biologist Freek Vonk has built up a respectable career as a snake scientist. But in his home country,...
Since arriving on the island of Guam in the 1940s, the brown tree snake ( Boiga irregularis ) has extirpated native...
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...
- 5 December 2013 11:26 am , Vol. 342 , #6163
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A Sequel to SARS?
21 August 2003 (All day)
An outbreak of a mild respiratory disease in two nursing homes near Vancouver, Canada, has scientists and public health experts puzzled and worried. Tests suggest that an agent very much like the one that causes severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) is involved, yet the symptoms do not resemble full-blown SARS. The findings suggest the coronavirus that causes SARS may cause a milder disease that wasn't known.
Health authorities in the province of British Columbia have reported that 94 residents and 49 staff at a nursing home in Surrey have fallen ill since 1 July. Most had very mild, coldlike symptoms, although 11 older patients developed pneumonia and six have died with pneumonia, often accompanied by other diseases. Nine cases occurred in a second home nearby.
In studies at Canada's National Microbiology Laboratory in Winnipeg, nine out of 19 patients had traces of the SARS coronavirus's RNA; four out of seven patients also had antibodies against the virus. Researchers have yet to sequence the genome of the virus implicated in the illness, but the 750 base pairs sequenced so far closely resemble snippets in the SARS coronavirus genome, David Patrick of the British Columbia Centre for Disease Control reported yesterday in a posting to ProMED, an e-mail list for emerging infectious diseases.
So far, the SARS virus--whose transmission the World Health Organization (WHO) said had been halted everywhere by 5 July--had not been known to cause mild disease. In his report, Patrick offered three possible explanations: Perhaps the virus has been causing unnoticed mild illness all along; a major mutation may have rendered the SARS virus much less aggressive; or the virus may be a close relative of SARS.
The findings are potentially worrisome, says virologist Albert Osterhaus of Erasmus University in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, "but right now, we just don't have enough data to say anything useful." But Henry Niman, a Harvard researcher, says the findings suggest that the real SARS virus is still circulating in Canada and could mutate back into the more deadly form.
WHO has sent a virologist to Winnipeg to monitor the studies--but it doesn't consider it a health emergency because the disease is so mild. "Right now, this is just a lab anomaly," says WHO spokesperson Dick Thompson. Meanwhile, Canadian authorities have isolated patients and are tracing people who might have come in contact with them.