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SARS Virus No Longer Such a Mystery

I’m Shep O'Neal with the VOA Special English Health Report.

There is progress toward a possible treatment for lung diseases such as severe acute respiratory syndrome.

Researchers have learned more about how the SARS virus works. It interferes with a system in the body that uses enzymes to control blood pressure and fluid balance. The scientists say the virus attaches to an enzyme known as ACE-two. The virus blocks the enzyme, permitting fluid to enter the lungs.

So the researchers put large amounts of the ACE-two enzyme into the lungs of laboratory mice. The scientists say the ACE-two attached to the virus and prevented it from linking to normal cells. The enzyme helped to protect against lung failure.

A team from Europe and Asia reported the findings in Nature Medicine. Doctor Josef Penninger of the Institute of Molecular Biotechnology in the Austrian Academy of Sciences was the lead writer of the report.

The discovery could lead to new ways to treat not just SARS but also other diseases that can cause lung failure. These include avian flu and influenza in humans. First, however, more study is needed to know if the enzyme will have the same effect in people as in mice.

The first cases of SARS were discovered in Guangdong province, in southern China, in November of two thousand two. Chinese officials were criticized for delaying or hiding information about the problem. SARS was not recognized as a worldwide threat until March of two thousand three.

The disease spread to twenty-six countries, most of them in the Asia-Pacific area. An estimated eight thousand people had SARS. More then seven hundred seventy of them died, or about ten percent, a relatively high rate.

The World Health Organization warned people not to travel to affected areas. The crisis hurt international travel and business. The W.H.O. says the disease stopped spreading by July of two thousand three. As a result of SARS, the health agency got new powers to act before a government officially announces a crisis.

SARS is a newly discovered member of the coronavirus family. Some coronaviruses are mild by comparison, like those that cause the common cold. But coronaviruses in animals can be more severe.

SARS is believed to have crossed from animals to people. Many questions remain about how the virus first appeared and when it might appear again.

This VOA Special English Health Report was written by Cynthia Kirk. Our reports are on the Web at I’m Shep O'Neal.