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GENERAL INFORMATION - CAUSE OF SARS
Cause of SARS (General Information)
What is the cause of SARS?
Scientists at CDC and other laboratories have detected a previously unrecognized coronavirus in patients with SARS. While the new coronavirus is still the leading hypothesis for the cause of SARS, other viruses are still under investigation as potential causes.
What are coronaviruses?
Coronaviruses are a group of viruses that have a halo or crown-like (corona) appearance when viewed under a microscope. These viruses are a common cause of mild to moderate upper-respiratory illness in humans and are associated with respiratory, gastrointestinal, liver and neurologic disease in animals. Coronaviruses can survive in the environment for as long as three hours.
What evidence is there to suggest that coronaviruses may be linked with SARS?
CDC scientists were able to isolate a virus from the tissues of two patients who had SARS and then used several laboratory methods to characterize the agent. Examination by electron microscopy revealed that the virus had the distinctive shape and appearance of coronaviruses. Tests of serum specimens from patients with SARS showed that the patients appeared to have recently been infected with this coronavirus. Other tests demonstrated that coronavirus was present in a variety of clinical specimens from patients, including nose and throat swabs. In addition, genetic analysis suggests that this new virus belongs to the family of coronaviruses but differs from previously identified coronaviruses. These laboratory results do not provide conclusive evidence that the new coronavirus is the cause of SARS. Additional specimens are being tested to learn more about this coronavirus and its link with SARS.
If coronaviruses usually cause mild illness in humans, how could this new coronavirus be responsible for a potentially life-threatening disease such as SARS?
There is not enough information about the new virus to determine the full range of illness that it might cause. Coronaviruses have occasionally been linked to pneumonia in humans, especially people with weakened immune systems. The viruses can also cause severe disease in animals, including cats, dogs, pigs, mice, and birds.
Has new information about coronavirus changed the recommendations for medical treatment for patients with SARS?
The possibility that coronavirus is the cause of SARS has not changed treatment recommendations. The new coronavirus is being tested against various antiviral drugs to see if an effective treatment can be found.
Is there a test for SARS?
No "test" is available yet for SARS; however, CDC, in collaboration with WHO and other laboratories, has developed 2 research tests that appear to be very promising in detecting antibodies to the new coronavirus. CDC is working to refine and share this testing capability as soon as possible with laboratories across the United States and internationally.
What about reports suggesting that the cause of SARS may be human metapneumovirus?
Researchers from several laboratories participating in the WHO laboratory network have reported finding evidence of human metapneumovirus in some specimens from SARS patients. CDC has detected this virus in one SARS patient. There is not enough information to determine what role, if any, human metapneumovirus might have in causing SARS.