A lethal new virus – severe acute respiratory syndrome – that originated in the Far East has infected 3,293 people and killed 161 in 22 countries nationwide since November, according to the Associated Press. Through testing on monkeys, the World Health Organization announced today that SARS is caused by the coronavirus.

Identifying the coronavirus as the cause for SARS allows researchers to better develop prevention and treatment methods for controlling the virus.

Dr. Edward Walsh, a UR professor of medicine and pediatrics and a Consultant for Infectious Diseases for Rochester General Hospital, appeared on National Public Radio’s Talk of the Nation show April 11 to discuss SARS. “The difficulty at this point is that we’re very early in the epidemic. The information that we have has evolved over the past six weeks to a large extent,” Walsh said to host Ira Flatow.

In response to Flatow’s comment on the danger of contracting the virus in the United States, Walsh said that cases are rare. “It seems to be limited to various ‘hot spots’ as they’re called throughout the world.”

Although the cases are limited in number in the United States, a few individuals, mostly health care workers, have contracted the virus.

“The CDC did today identify five individuals – all of whom had come back from the hot spots, Hong Kong and Singapore – who were documented with the new tests that have been developed as having the coronavirus infection and SARS,” Walsh said.

The virus is “rather contagious,” according to Walsh, but is usually contracted through close personal contact with an infected person, especially if they are sneezing or coughing. Walsh also said that scientists in Asia discovered that the virus may be spread through feces.

According to Flatow, Congress approved a bill last week that devotes $16 million towards SARS research.

Scientists suspect that the disease spread from animals to humans, but do not know from which animals. Fever, shortness of breath, coughing, chills and body aches are common symptoms of SARS.

WHO announced Wednesday that scientists agreed to name the virus SARS, but had also considered naming it after Dr. Carl Urbani, who first discovered the disease in Vietnam and died from SARS on March 29, according to the Associated Press.

Information provided by The New York Times and the Associated Press.

Yunis can be reached at tyunis@campustimes.org.

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