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Secrets of New SARS-Like Virus Uncovered

Finding shows how it enters cells, could lead to vaccine, researchers report


The discovery of the receptor could potentially help researchers inhibit the spread of the virus, said Haagmans. One approach would be to develop a vaccine that securely locked the cell door to the coronavirus receptor, preventing the virus from being able to storm the cell.

Haagmans said he doesn't know why the virus seems to be deadly. He said it's possible that scores of people with a less harmful form of the disease have not been identified, due to limited testing in the Arabian Peninsula, where the disease seems to have originated.

Analysis of the virus's genome showed that it is related to coronaviruses found in bats. Coronaviruses can infect a wide range of mammals and birds, and are considered to have what is called "zoonotic potential," which means they can be transmitted to people.

Dr. Susan Gerber, a medical epidemiologist with the division of viral diseases at the CDC, said she thinks Haagmans's research will be valuable because it helps scientists understand what happens at the cellular level of the disease. "This is going to be very important in the treatment of the virus," she said.

Yet Gerber stressed that there is still much to learn about the virus and the infection it causes. "There are so few cases that have been identified of this virus infection," she said. "We need more information."

The CDC is advising people who develop severe acute lower respiratory illnesses, such as pneumonia, within 10 days after traveling from the Arabian Peninsula or neighboring countries to see their health provider.

The agency also recommended that those who haven't traveled to the Arabian Peninsula but come into close contact with someone who has should be evaluated if they develop a severe acute lower respiratory illness.

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