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Cause of recent SARS epidemic still unclear
Updated: 2004-05-08 20:10

China's Ministry of Health said Saturday that it is making thorough investigation into the cause of recent severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) epidemic, but the result is not available at the time being.

The ministry said the first diagnosed SARS patient surnamed Song was a medical graduate from Anhui Province studying in the Virology Institute under the Beijing-based Chinese Center for Disease Prevention and Control. Another SARS patient, a medical doctor with the surname of Yang, also worked in the institute.

Shortly after the occurrence of SARS epidemic, an expert team was set up consisting of members from China's Academy of Military Medical Sciences, and Beijing and national disease prevention and control center. The team has made epidemiological investigations into the two cases and interviewed all the staff working at the laboratory of Virology Institute, the ministry said.

The experts also conducted field investigations and collected samples at the laboratory, the ministry said, adding that the samples have been sent to two Chinese national laboratories and a World Health Organization (WHO) network laboratory for testing.

However, the expert team believes that more tests should be done on the laboratory samples as well as the samples of the two cases and those infected by them, in order to separate and verify SARS virus and determine the virus sequence.

"Therefore, we still need to wait for a period for the final result," an official with the ministry said.

China reported no new SARS infection in the past few days and the ministry said except one SARS patient surnamed Zhang in Beijing, other patients were all in good conditions and recoveringquickly. Beijing's first diagnosed SARS patient Li has recovered and was discharged from hospital on May 4.

SARS could spread via coughs, sweat, urine

The deadly SARS virus might be more contagious than previously thought and possibly transmitted by contaminated food or water, droplets of mucus, urine, feces and sweat, scientists reported May 7.

World Health Organisation experts arrive to check a quarantined building containing the laboratory, where investigators suspect workers caught and spread SARS in Beijing, in this picture taken April 30, 2004. [Reuters]

Researchers at the Groningen University Hospital in the Netherlands and the First Military Medical University in Guangzhou, China, said their findings emphasized the need for more stringent infection-control measures.

Scientists from Guangzhou's First Military Medical University in China had carried out the research on four people who had died of SARS.

They found SARS virus or the coronavirus appeared in many organs and tissues of patients, including stomach, small intestine, sweat gland cell, liver and brain.

If these routines are confirmed, the SARS patients may have to wear gloves, disposable gowns and eye goggles, in addition to a full face mask, to avoid kissing or touching other people.

Scientists also say the virus may be released into environment via faeces and urine from individuals with the disease.

The Dutch scientists found receptors that enable the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) virus to bind to cells in the lungs, kidneys and the lining of the small intestine and on sweat glands, arteries and veins.

Both research papers were published this week in the British Journal of Pathology.

"We revealed a small piece of the puzzle... which indicates that once the virus is in the blood it could affect all kinds of organs," said Dr Harry van Goor, one of the supervisors of the study in the Netherlands.

"There is a strong possibility that SARS could be spread via water and skin contact. Our findings may benefit a lot of people... and make them be very cautious about contact with SARS patients."

SARS infected more than 8,000 people in nearly 30 countries and killed nearly 800 in 2003. Although the outbreak was brought under control, public health experts say it could re-emerge.

Symptoms of SARS include a high fever accompanied by a cough, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing.

Scientists identified as its cause a new virus from the family of corona viruses, which are also implicated in the common cold and a range of animal illnesses.

The Chinese scientists in Guangzhou analyzed tissues from four people who had died of the infection and produced findings similar to those of their Dutch colleagues, the Journal of Pathology said in a statement.

"As a result of our work we recommend new infection control measures, which include getting patients to wear gloves, disposable gowns and eye protection... and to avoid kissing or touching other people," the journal quoted Dr Yanqing Ding, the researcher who led the Chinese study, as saying.

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