SARS rearing its head again?
syndrome (SARS) could occur in 2004, after initial tests on a
patient with symptoms associated with the disease suggested that
the causative agent was the SARS coronavirus (CoV).
Samples from the patient, a 32-year-old television journalist, were sent to World Health Organisation laboratories for testing using polymerase chain reaction probes designed to match the virus' genetic motif.
China's Xinhua news agency reported that the findings indicated that the causative virus was very similar to the SARS coronavirus, which swept Asia and other areas of the world in early 2003. China was the country worst affected by the epidemic, with 5,327 people infected and 349 deaths attributed to the virus. In total, 774 people died around the world from the disease.
Initial tests were inconclusive but included some positive results, and patient samples are now being sent to overseas laboratories in an attempt to validate the findings. Despite feverish research, there is no treatment for SARS and the emphasis is on containment and control.
A statement released on the WHO website on New Year's eve said: "It is clear that the male patient … has suffered from pneumonia and displayed signs and symptoms that could fit the profile of SARS. However such signs and symptoms could also be caused by a large number of other infectious diseases."
Since the 2003 epidemic, researchers around the world have been trying to identify ways to treat the virus, and earlier this year scientists identified one particularly promising new drug target, a viral protein called coronavirus main protease.
A drug developed by Pfizer subsidiary Agouron Pharmaceuticals for rhinovirus infections which are often behind the common cold, is already in clinical trials and has shown some activity against the coronavirus protease. It could form a useful starting point for drugs specifically designed to treat SARS.