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Lung Disease & Respiratory Health Center

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Possible SARS Vaccine Breakthrough

Genetically Altered Virus Triggers SARS Immune Response in Monkeys

Rapid Spread of SARS continued...

The cold virus his team employed is frequently used in many vaccines. "It's known to be safe and could be produced in large quantities at a relatively low cost," he says.

The next phase of research is now starting: To test the vaccine in ferrets, which just three weeks ago were shown by Dutch researchers to develop SARS symptoms after being infected with the SARS-coronavirus -- unlike the "healthy" monkeys initially used.

"This is definitely a good first step in the right direction and proof of action -- that they could get a good immune response to the present coronavirus that's linked to SARS," says Michael J. Rybak, PharmD, director of the Anti-Infective Research Laboratory at Wayne State University and past-president of the Society of Infectious Disease Pharmacists. He was not involved in Gambotto's research.

"The kicker, of course, is that there may be a new SARS virus six months from now, so this vaccine might offer only partial protection against that," Rybak tells WebMD. "That's the reason we don't have a good cold vaccine or why we need to change the influenza vaccine every year. These viruses can change rapidly."

Protect Yourself

In the meantime, experts recommend taking the same precautions against SARS as you would against any other viral infection -- avoid close "person-to-person" contact or sharing utensils with those who are sneezing or coughing. The main way SARS appears to spread is through respiratory droplets from an infected person that line mucous membranes of the mouth, nose, or eyes of those nearby. It can also spread when people touch a surface contaminated with infectious droplets and then their mouth, nose, or eyes. It may also spread in ways not yet known.

SARS typically begins with a fever of more than 100.4 degrees. Other symptoms include headache, body aches, overall discomfort, and mild respiratory symptoms. About 10%-20% of people infected with SARS also get diarrhea. After two to seven days, people develop a dry cough and most develop pneumonia.

In May, the World Health Organization revised its initial estimates of the risk of death due to SARS. It now predicts an overall death rate of 14% to 15% across all ages, up from the previous estimate of 3% to 7%.

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