SARS-Like Virus Found In
Reptiles, Birds And Mammals

From Patricia Doyle, PhD

A ProMED-mail post
ProMED-mail is a program of the
International Society for Infectious Diseases
Date: 21 Aug 2003
From: ProMED-mail <>
Source: ProLog [edited]
A SARS-like virus has been found in a broad range of animals, stretching from snakes and birds to mammals, a medical group said Thursday after returning from the epicenter of the virus in south China.
The 14 United Nations and Chinese experts visited farms and markets in Guangdong province in search of a possible animal carrier of the virus, and were astounded to see how many different species were infected. "What is surprising is we got positive results from mammals, from birds and from reptiles," said Francois Moutou, a French expert on epidemic disease. "This is very strange, because usually we don't find viruses ... affecting so many [different] animals," he told a briefing in Beijing.
After a week-long trip to Guangdong, where the atypical pneumonia erupted late in 2002, the search for an animal carrier remains a "work in progress," according to health officials.
One of the main findings by the expert group was the realization that finding the origin and nature of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) may be a much more complex task than initially hoped.
"There may be many animals that are capable of being infected, but they might not be capable of transmitting the virus to people," Hume E. Field, an expert from Australia's Animal Research Institute, told the briefing. The researchers warned that detecting the source of the disease might take years, which means measures to curb further transmission must be undertaken before it is fully understood. "Obviously we can't wait until we've got the whole jigsaw together before action is taken," said Field. "So really we have to look at the best information we've got at the time in terms of risk and respond according to that."
Curbing further threats from SARS could result in restrictions on consumption of certain types of wildlife known to be infected, despite inconclusive data on whether the species is capable of transmitting the sometimes-fatal illness to humans, he said.
After SARS emerged in Guangdong province in 2002, it quickly spread to become a global menace, leaving more than 800 dead from 8000 infections in 32 countries. Some 349 of the fatalities and 5327 of the infections were recorded in China. Although China has formally declared victory over SARS and the last patients have been discharged from hospital, many in the world's most populous country remain wary that the epidemic could bounce back. And even if the world has not seen the reemergence of SARS by New Year 2004, it does not mean the danger is entirely over, experts warned. "We need to recognize that if it doesn't return this year, that doesn't mean it will never return," Field told the briefing.
The World Health Organization (WHO) said Thursday it would train thousands of medical workers in China, as fears linger that SARS could strike again this year once cold weather sets in. The training program is meant to better equip health workers to prevent infectious diseases from spreading in hospitals, said Alan Schnur, a WHO communicable diseases expert. The training program will begin in Beijing, where 193 people died from the epidemic earlier in 2003, and will gradually be expanded to other parts of China.
At the height of the SARS outbreak, many people in China were scared of going to hospitals because of fears -- in some cases well-founded -- that sub-standard facilities made them breeding-grounds for the virus.
The WHO could not conclusively rule out a SARS reappearance in late autumn as temperatures start plunging, and stressed steps should be taken to prevent any potential outbreak. "Whether or not SARS returns, China must have a strong surveillance network already in place," said Henk Bekedam, the WHO's China representative.
Date: 21 Aug 2003
From: ProMED-mail <>
Source: WHO SARS website [edited]
WHO Representative Office in China 21 Aug 2003
Joint mission on SARS animal reservoir and necessary next steps
A joint team of specialists from the Chinese government, the World Health Organization, and the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), in China to investigate the animal reservoir of the SARS coronavirus, has issued a series of recommendations and actions necessary not only to identify the disease's animal reservoir, but to contain any future outbreaks.
"We did not set out this time to find the animal reservoir for SARS, but to methodically piece together the jigsaw puzzle of this disease," says WHO's Dr Pierre Formenty, a zoonotic disease specialist and joint leader of the mission. "The fight against SARS is not over. Finding its origin will most likely take years," says Dr Formenty, "Right now, the need for information is of such urgency that even limited information will be helpful in taking the right control measures. Because SARS is a global threat, international collaboration is essential if we are to detect and rapidly contain any new outbreaks."
Among the measures recommended by the joint team of specialists include the strengthening of regulations in the farming, trading, and consumption of wildlife. More serological monitoring of the SARS coronavirus are needed both in animals and humans, as well as continued in-depth human studies of SARS index cases. Determining how SARS first breached the species barrier is crucial to controlling it.
While it is still unknown whether SARS will return, WHO is continuing to work closely with the Chinese government to design and implement a strategy using hospitals as early detection centers of SARS. WHO is also collaborating with the Chinese Ministry of Health to strengthen infection control in health care settings. A series of training seminars on SARS infection control procedures for health care workers is scheduled for September 2003 in Beijing and Changsha.
Following a meeting today with senior officials from the Ministry of Science and Technology, Ministry of Agriculture, Ministry of Health, and the Ministry of Forestry, in which the Chinese government recognized the need for increased research co-ordination, WHO is optimistic about future prospects for collaboration.
"Whether or not SARS returns, China must have a strong surveillance network already in place," says Dr Henk Bekedam, WHO's China Representative. "China has a unique opportunity to contribute to the international understanding of this disease. Investing now in this safety net may be the key to successfully combating SARS."
Patricia A. Doyle, PhD
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