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HEALTH REPORT - SARS Vaccine Moves Toward Testing - 2003-11-26

Broadcast: November 26, 2003

This is Phoebe Zimmermman with the VOA Special English Health Report.

Health officials say tests on people of a possible vaccine to prevent SARS may begin early next year. SARS is severe acute respiratory syndrome.

More than fifty SARS experts met this month in Geneva at the headquarters of the World Health Organization. They came from fifteen countries to discuss progress against the lung disease.

SARS began in southern China late last year. It spread in Asia and other parts of the world. The W-H-O declared travel warnings. Health officials worked aggressively. They kept SARS patients away from others. They looked for anyone else those patients might have been near.

SARS was contained in the middle of this year. By then, eight-thousand people had become sick. More than seven-hundred of them died.

SARS causes effects similar to those of pneumonia or influenza. People often cough. Breathing is difficult or painful. Some people need machines to help them breathe. Body temperature goes up. SARS can also make people feel tired, make their head hurt and make them not want to eat. Most people with SARS, however, usually recover within two weeks.

There will not be a vaccine in time if SARS returns at the end of this year. But the experts at the meeting in Geneva praised the progress made so far. They discussed work on experimental vaccines against animal diseases caused by similar viruses.

SARS is caused by a coronavirus. Other members of this family of viruses cause diseases in animals as well as the common cold in people.

The W-H-O said the first test of an experimental SARS vaccine on humans could happen as early as January. It says the vaccine should be ready in four to five years, unless there is a large outbreak of SARS. In that event, it says the development process may be shortened to two years.

Doctor Marie-Paule Kieny is director of the W-H-O Initiative for Vaccine Research. She said the process to develop a SARS vaccine more quickly than usual will be very complex. It will require continued international cooperation. But, she said, safety and quality must never be compromised.

Until there is a vaccine, the W-H-O says health officials must be ready to use the existing control measures that work, in case SARS reappears.

This VOA Special English Health Report was written by Caty Weaver. This is Phoebe Zimmermann.