- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 4, 2003

Two sequences of the SARS virus’s genetic structure have been reviewed by experts and published in the journal Science, providing key assistance to researchers as they try to develop vaccines, treatments and tests for the respiratory illness that has spread worldwide.”We hope it will be very helpful,” said Dr. James M. Hughes, director for infectious disease at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The CDC completed one of the genome sequences and Canadian authorities did the second. The two are nearly identical.There actually are two dozen complete sequences of the SARS virus, but these are the first two to be published, said Dick Thompson, spokesman for the World Health Organization.Genetic-sequencing information is significant because it allows scientists, among other things, to study the part of the virus that does not change. SARS is an RNA-based virus, and these types vary slightly in replication. The constant part of the virus, however, is what scientists aim at when making vaccines. RNA, ribonucleic acid, is a cousin to DNA, deoxyribonucleic acid.”It’ll help in the long term in terms of finding the … target for a vaccine,” Mr. Thompson said, adding that scientists also will be able to “notice changes in the sequence over time.”“Having the genetic information of an agent is really an important step,” said Dr. Carlos del Rio, associate professor of medicine and infectious diseases at Emory University School of Medicine. He added it is “mind-boggling” to have this information so soon after the SARS virus was discovered.Meanwhile, WHO officials yesterday said people should not jump to premature conclusions over reports by authorities in Hong Kong that 12 SARS patients thought to have recovered have now relapsed.”It is much too early to draw conclusions,” said Klaus Stohr, coordinator of science and clinical collaboration groups at the WHO. He said a representative of WHO spoke to Hong Kong authorities yesterday, “tests are being run on these patients” and WHO authorities should know more by today.He also noted that “we are talking about a large number of people who have been discharged from the hospital and a relatively small number” who have relapsed.Mr. Thompson added that, “it’s unclear whether it’s a true relapse” of SARS, because “maybe it wasn’t SARS to begin with” in these people.As of yesterday, the SARS virus has killed nearly 400 people in Asia and Canada and infected nearly 6,000 people worldwide in 27 countries, according to the WHO.The genome sequencing published this week in Science said that SARS is a new form of coronavirus because it has features of that type as well as totally new characteristics that distinguish it. The CDC research paper points out that there are “several unique features” in the SARS genetic information that “could be of biological significance” once they are studied.The CDC paper also says the availability of complete genomic sequences for SARS, “just a few weeks” after its discovery, “should have an immediate impact on disease-control efforts by making it possible to develop improved diagnostic tests, vaccines and antiviral agents.” It also will allow scientists to further study where the virus came from and how it affects the body.Dr. Hughes of the CDC said they are investigating the progress of the disease in U.S. SARS patients, including how long they are contagious.Meanwhile, Toronto reported two new SARS cases yesterday. The cases were said to be nurses who had been treating SARS patients, Reuters news agency reported.• This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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