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January 15, 2004 HONG KONG (Reuters) - Scientists in Hong Kong have discovered people with a certain pattern of genes have a much higher risk of getting SARS, a finding that could help diagnose and prevent the spread of the deadly disease.

Quest For SARS Source Gathers Pace in Bid to Thwart Resurgence

A substantial number of leads are being developed in the hunt to find the reservoir for SARS.

SARS Case Confirmed in China
Civet cat population ordered slaughtered

January 6, 2004 -- China on Monday confirmed its first SARS case since an outbreak of the disease was contained in July and authorities ordered the emergency slaughter of some 10,000 civet cats and related species after tests linked a virus found in the animals to the patient.

The Philippines also isolated a woman and her husband who might be infected, triggering fears across Asia that a second season of the highly contagious illness might be at hand.

The Chinese Health Ministry said the illness contracted by a 32-year-old television producer in the southern province of Guangdong "has been confirmed as a diagnosed case" of SARS. The World Health Organization in Beijing also said an announcement was forthcoming from its office. -- Canadian Press

Singapore Says Develops Quick Test for SARS
September 5, 2003 SINGAPORE - Researchers in Singapore said on Friday they had developed a new SARS test kit capable of detecting the deadly respiratory virus in 15 minutes. (Reuters)

Chinese Researchers Confirm SARS Came from Animals
September 04, 2003 WASHINGTON -- Genetic testing of animals sold as delicacies in a southern Chinese market confirms suspicions that the deadly SARS virus jumped from animals to people, Chinese researchers said on Thursday. -- Reuters

More SARS or Just a False Alarm?

28 August 2003 -- Canadian health officials say tests showing new cases of severe acute respiratory syndrome in their country are false. Critics say that's too good to be true. -- Full article by Kristen Philipkoski in Wired

Toronto Doctor Dies of SARS

Third Canadian health care worker to die of disease. -- Canada.com

A New Sense of Purpose at the CDC

A year ago, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) was seen as a slow-to-react agency better at compiling statistics than fighting disease and one that stumbled badly at communicating with doctors and the public during the 2001 anthrax attacks.

During the anthrax scare, the CDC was slow not only to get information out to state health officials, but to doctors as well. Some in Congress questioned whether the CDC ever could be trusted to competently run a disease investigation again. Resignations followed, including then-director Dr. Jeffrey Koplan.

What President Ronald Reagan's Surgeon General, Dr. C. Everett Koop, did for public health communication during the early years of AIDS prevention came back to haunt public health decades later.

"The elected political leaders were not as happy with Koop as the rest of the nation. Koop made the decision to independently act on AIDS and Reagan was not as willing to act," said Dr. Robert Blendon, professor of health policy and political analysis at the Harvard School of Public Health. "People have reined in the Surgeon General after Koop. I don't think they have allowed them the air time."

When anthrax hit, Surgeon General Dr. David Satcher, a former CDC director, initially stood on the sidelines, even though the health crisis demanded a national health spokesperson.

"On Day One of anthrax, why wasn't David Satcher . . . made the C. Everett Koop of anthrax?" asks Robert Howard, a former CDC communications official who left the agency in November 2001, a month after the anthrax attacks. "You could have done the same thing with bioterrorism that you did with AIDS. We had a David Satcher and we didn't use him."

From inside the heart of the CDC -- the National Center for Infectious Diseases -- Howard saw what he said was a "complete disconnect," that conflicting reports and data from the CDC and the government "kept bumping into each other. You couldn't find a solid, articulate message."

All that has changed with the agency's fast, up-front response to last summer's West Nile virus and this year's outbreaks of SARS and monkeypox. Dr. Julie Gerberding, who was appointed director of the agency on July 3, 2002, has single-handedly restored the credibility of the CDC while becoming perhaps the most visible American health official since Dr. Koop.

In July 2002, the West Nile virus was on its way to infecting 4,100 Americans and killing 284. "her whole attitude was one of 'How can we help?' as opposed to interrogating us with, 'Are you doing enough?' That makes a huge difference, said Marsanne Golsby, Louisiana Gov. Mike Foster's press secretary, commenting on Gerberding's visit during the height of that state's crisis.

"Her leadership and the CDC's capabilities have been tested under fire and they have responded very well," said Dr. Jim Curran, who helped the CDC fight Aids in the 1980s, now dean of Emory University's Rollins School of Public Health. "Even though all is not well, you feel like somebody competent is in charge. -- Edited from the AP article at the Austin American-Statesman

 
January 14, 2004 SINGAPORE (Reuters) - Flu outbreaks have killed tens of millions of people around the globe over the past century, and scientists are investigating if the deaths of three people in Vietnam from bird flu could be the start of a new pandemic.
 
Bird Flu.  A lot has been written about this new disease over the past few days.  The reason world health officials think it's potentially dangerous is that different strains of flu can combine their genetic material.  The fear is that the bird flu now killing mostly chickens in Southeast Asia will combine with the flu usually infecting humans creating an unstoppable super-strain. -- Robert Bazell reported details on In Depth for NBC on  January 4, 2004.

Health Resources: Influenza, SARS, Communicable Diseases
Influenza: the "Flu" -- Hitting hard, early, and hanging around, this year's flu season is a killer for the infirm, and the very young and elderly.

SARS: Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome

Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, or SARS, is a severe form of pneumonia. The cause of SARS is still not confirmed, however national and international laboratory testing and collaboration is ongoing.

The main symptoms of SARS include both a high fever (over 38° Celsius) and respiratory problems, including dry cough, shortness of breath or breathing difficulties. A chest X-ray would indicate pneumonia.

People with SARS may also experience other symptoms, including headache, muscular stiffness, loss of appetite, malaise, confusion, rash and diarrhea.

The disease is spread from one person to another only through close contact - through droplets from coughing or sneezing, or from direct face-to-face contact.

There is no evidence to date that the disease spreads through casual contact, or through the air. SARS appears to be less infectious than the flu, with an incubation period estimated to range from 2-10 days. - York Central Hospital, Canada 

Two Strains of the SARS Virus Sequenced

Two teams of researchers have sequenced the genome of two strains of the virus believed to be responsible for severe acute respiratory synDr.ome (SARS). Their results confirm the suspicion that it is a previously unknown coronavirus. Knowledge of the genome, which has been made publicly available, should help in designing new diagnostic tests and eventually a vaccine.

Both teams report their findings in the current issue of the journal Science, which has made the articles freely available on the internet. Because of the urgency of the problem, the work was conducted with a degree of openness and cooperation rarely seen in the genomic sequencing community.

As more strains are sequenced, the degree of difference between them will provide vital clues to the rate of mutation. Although all other known coronaviruses have been allocated to one of three serotypes, both teams of microbiologists believe the new virus belongs in a fourth category of its own.

The structural differences from other coronaviruses, and the lack of evidence of recombination, suggest that the SARS virus is not a result of other viruses swapping DNA with a previously benign coronavirus that already lived unnoticed in humans. Rather, the researchers say, the evidence indicates that SARS is genuinely new in humans and until recently inhabited an unknown animal species, probably in Guangdong province, China. -- Excerpts from the full article at British Medical Journal.com

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