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Lung Disease & Respiratory Health Center

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Common Cold Virus Suspected in SARS

CDC Says New Form of Virus May Cause Mystery Pneumonia


"Everyone is keeping open mind," says Gerberding. "The challenge is that it's a nonspecific illness, and we're dealing with families of viruses that are ubiquitous. And finding them is not same as finding a cause of the disease."

Even so, U.S. secretary of Health and Human Services Tommy Thompson says this finding from the CDC is encouraging news.

"These and other excellent scientists all over the world have been working around the clock for days and their hard work is paying off. They continue to look at other possible causes of SARS, but this is a key finding in our efforts to identify the cause of this global outbreak," says Thompson, in a news release.

As with the common cold, Gerberding says there currently no known treatments that are effective against the coronavirus. But the Department of Defense is currently testing all known antiviral drugs against this newly discovered form of the virus in an attempt to find an appropriate treatment for the mysterious pneumonia=.

Health officials continue to recommend that persons suspected of having the pneumonia illness associated with SARS should be treated as any other person with an unknown form of pneumonia with antibiotics and supportive nursing care.

Since the outbreak began, health officials have also learned more about the symptoms most commonly found in SARS and updated their description of the condition. The main symptoms of SARS are now described as:

  • High fever (over 100.4 degreed Fahrenheit)
  • Dry cough, shortness of breath or breathing difficulties.
  • Changes in chest X-rays that suggest pneumonia.

Other non-specific symptoms such as headache, muscular stiffness, loss of appetite, malaise, confusion, rash, and diarrhea, have also been reported in SARS patients.

Despite the rapid spread of the mysterious illness, officials say SARS has yet to become a community-spread illness. All of the suspected cases have occurred among people who have recently traveled to one of the affected areas of Southeast Asia within the last 10 days or those family members of health care workers who had close, face-to-face personal contact with someone who has.

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