WHO network identifies two different viruses as possible culprits in respiratory disease

WHO network identifies two different viruses as possible culprits in respiratory disease

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Ten days into the outbreak of the previously unrecognized disease known as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), the United Nations World Health Organization (WHO) today announced that two different viruses have now been identified in patient specimens as the possible source of the deadly illness.

"Eleven laboratories in nine countries have already found two very strong contenders, two viruses which are consistently isolated from many patients from very many different countries," WHO virologist Klaus Stöhr told a press briefing in Geneva, referring to the collaborative network set up by the UN health agency to track the disease. "The research is ongoing. It is not normal that one disease is caused by two viruses."

WHO officials said either one of the viruses, a paramyxo and a corona virus, could solely cause the disease or these two pathogens could have come together to cause the severe outbreak. It is possible both are common viruses, that are simultaneously present but not related in any way, they added.

"The reason why we believe that both pathogens should be given equal attention is that there is consistent finding of both pathogens in individual patients or either of the pathogens in other patients," Mr. Stöhr said, adding that this dual presence complicated the picture from the point of disease control.

Joining Mr. Stöhr at the press briefing was WHO Executive Director of Communicable Diseases, David Heymann, who reiterated that until there are indications to the contrary, "travel is not to be interrupted throughout the world at this point." All available evidence indicates that the disease has so far been contracted through close contact such as with a family member or a hospital worker, he added.

WHO has reported 456 cases in 14 countries, resulting in 17 deaths. The agency said it remains concerned about Hong Kong and China where there is less information about containment activities and their success rate.