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22 Mysterious Pneumonia Cases in U.S.

Officials "Cautiously Optimistic" About Test for SARS

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WHO officials say it is promising that many of the known forms of the Paramyxoviridae viruses have already been excluded, which suggests that this might be a new form of the virus.

Despite the difficulties in identifying the exact cause of SARS, investigators today announced a major step toward developing a test that could screen suspected SARS cases. Officials say that a laboratory has now succeeded in growing an infectious agent in the laboratory that appears to cause severe acute respiratory syndrome.

When researchers added blood from patients recovering with SARS to a cell culture, the growth of the virus was halted, but blood from healthy people had no effect on the virus. That indicates that persons with SARS had developed antibodies to the virus, which provides strong evidence that the virus is the likely cause of illness.

"This is not just some light at the end of the tunnel," said WHO virologist Dr Klaus Stöhr, who is coordinating the collaborative laboratory efforts. "This is a real ray of sunshine."

Gerberding says the virus appears to be particularly dangerous and potentially deadly to even healthy individuals, and early isolation and early care is critical to managing the pneumonia and respiratory illness caused by SARS.

But Gerberding added that there is promising news coming out of Vietnam, where some of the first SARS cases were reported. In Hanoi, there are more reports of people recovering from severe acute respiratory syndrome and being released from the hospital.

"So in the absence of a cause, good supportive care can promote recovery," says Gerberding.

Until the cause of the mysterious pneumonia is identified, WHO broadly defines a case of severe acute respiratory syndrome as someone with:

  • A fever of greater than 100.4 degrees;
  • One or more of the following respiratory symptoms: cough, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, or an X-ray finding of pneumonia;
  • And either close contact with a known SARS case or a history of travel to one of the affected areas within the last 10 days before the emergence of symptoms.

Most of the SARS cases are concentrated in Hong Kong, Vietnam, and Singapore, but other suspected cases have been reported in southern China, Taiwan, Switzerland, Canada, Germany, Slovenia, Spain, Thailand, Ireland, Italy, and the United Kingdom.

Gerberding says severe acute respiratory syndrome appears to be transmitted only through close, personal contact with an affected individual, such as a family member or healthcare worker of an infected individual. There is no evidence to suggest that casual contact with someone with SARS can result in infection.

Symptoms of the mysterious pneumonia or the respiratory illness caused by SARS develop within two to seven days after exposure. A CDC health alert advises travelers to Southeast Asia to seek medical attention immediately if they become ill with a fever and respiratory symptoms, such as cough or difficulty breathing, within 10 days of travel to affected areas. A related travel advisory also states that U.S. citizens planning nonessential travel to the regions affected by the SARS outbreak may wish to postpone their trips until further notice.

Click here for answers to commonly asked questions about severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS).

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