17 April 2003
Monkey experiments provide confirmation that a novel coronavirus
is the cause of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS)
Editorial team (email@example.com)
, Eurosurveillance editorial office.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has formally announced
that a member of the coronavirus family never before seen in humans, named
by WHO and its SARS laboratory network as the SARS virus, is the cause of
severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) (1). An expert meeting in Geneva,
attended by representatives from the SARS laboratory network, reviewed the
data available on SARS, and considered the imminent strategy for development
of a diagnostic test for SARS.
Among those present at the WHO press briefing that followed was Albert Osterhaus,
director of virology at Erasmus Medical Center in Rotterdam, the Netherlands
(2). Osterhaus reported an experiment in which three groups of monkeys were
infected with cultured coronavirus alone, with metapneumovirus alone, and
with coronavirus followed by metapneumovirus. Only the first group of monkeys,
which were infected with coronavirus alone, developed SARS, including clinical
symptoms and the pathological lesions seen in human patients who have died
from SARS. The second group of monkeys, infected with metapneumovirus, developed
mild rhinitis only, and the third group did not develop more serious disease.
WHO and the SARS laboratory network has now agreed that coronavirus alone
is capable of causing the typical symptoms that have been seen in SARS cases.
The WHO and the network of laboratories dedicate their detection and characterization
of the SARS virus to Dr Carlo Urbani, the WHO scientist who first alerted
the world to the existence of SARS in Hanoi, Vietnam, and who died from the
disease on 29 March 2003 (3).
In WHO's 27th update on the multicountry SARS outbreak, David Heymann, executive
director of communicable diseases at WHO, made an overview of the situation,
and applauded the remarkable international collaboration that has been seen
since mid-March 2003 (4). He commented that the response to SARS has been
the first test of global alert and response activity under the revision of
the International Health Regulations (5). Early detection, and the rapid introduction
of emergency measures to prevent further international spread of SARS, the
issue of an unprecedented emergency travel advisory, and identification and
characterisation of the causative agent, have all been results of international
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