posted on Apr, 16 2003 @ 08:51 PM
SARS Virus is Mutating, Fear Doctors
15:55 16 April 03
NewScientist.com news service
A cluster of SARS patients in Hong Kong with unusual symptoms has prompted concern that the virus causing the disease is mutating. Doctors fear the
changes are making the disease more severe.
Scientists in Hong Kong are now urgently sequencing key genes from recently isolated coronaviruses to reveal any changes. New Scientist has learned
that the changes in symptoms mirror those already seen when animal coronaviruses have mutated.
Microbiologist Yuen Kwok-yung, at the University of Hong Kong, said on Wednesday that the 300 patients from a SARS hot spot, the Amoy Gardens
apartment complex, were more seriously ill than patients who acquired the infection elsewhere.
The Amoy Gardens patients are three times as likely to suffer early diarrhoea, twice as likely to need intensive care and less likely to respond to a
cocktail of anti-viral drugs and steroids. Even medical staff who caught the infection from Amoy Gardens patients are more seriously ill, Yuen
Gut and lung
The comparison of the symptoms is continuing, says John Tam, a microbiologist at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. "But at the same time we are
studying the genetic sequences of the viruses involved in both outbreaks. The presence of a mutation leading to an altered tissue preference of the
virus cannot be discounted at the moment," he told New Scientist.
The much higher rate of diarrhoea in Amoy Garden cases supports the idea of an altered tissue preference, meaning a viral strain that can attack the
gut as well as the lungs.