- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 17, 2003

Health officials yesterday confirmed that a mysterious killer virus is a type of coronavirus that comes from animals but had never before affected humans.
The findings will help create a vaccine for severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, which has killed at least 159 persons worldwide.
The determination was made through a collaboration of 13 laboratories in 10 countries. Early evidence last week pointed to a new human pathogen and the final confirmation was announced yesterday by the World Health Organization.
"Because of an extraordinary collaboration among laboratories from countries around the world, we now know with certainty what causes SARS," said Dr. David Heymann, executive director of communicable diseases at the WHO.
University of Hong Kong microbiologist Malik Peiris said genetic sequencing of the virus concluded it is not man-made but comes from animals.
"That whole genome is essentially new," he said. "Nature has been the terrorist throwing up this virus."
Experiments on monkeys in the Netherlands confirmed the link, but what scientists don't know is how SARS first spread to humans.
Dr. Masato Tashira with the National Institute of Infectious Diseases in Tokyo said the virus has long existed in nature and is being carried by unknown host animals. The virus first appeared in the province of Guangdong, where all manners of living creatures are considered sources of food, he said.
Worldwide, 3,293 cases have been reported, up 58 from Tuesday, with 193 suspected cases in the United States. The death rate has risen to nearly 5 percent.
Mutations of the virus have been reported and Dr. James Le Duc with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta warned the spread is not under control.
"How it will progress, nobody really knows. It's most difficult to control diseases that are spread by droplets in this person-to-person spread. So I think it would be premature to suggest that we are near the end of this outbreak," Dr. Le Duc said.
WHO officials said the number of infected cases has been underreported by the Chinese government. At a press briefing yesterday, Dr. Heymann said there may be up to 200 more cases than the 37 originally reported.

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