Research scientists have made advances in gaining a better understanding of the SARS virus and how it spreads. Currently, the SARS virus is being tested against various antiviral drugs to see if an effective SARS treatment can be found. Although medical advances have been made in recent years, much more research is needed to develop ways to identify, treat, and prevent SARS.
The prompt recognition that SARS is caused by a new type of coronavirus is a tribute to the dedication of and collaboration by the world's medical researchers and public health experts. Much more SARS research is needed, however, to develop ways to identify, treat, and prevent this deadly illness.
Some recent advances in SARS research and goals for the future include:
- Understanding the virus and how it spreads
- Developing medications
- Developing tests to diagnose SARS
- Developing a SARS vaccine.
Using high-powered microscopes, blood tests, and other standard laboratory techniques, research scientists in Hong Kong were the first to show that SARS was caused by a virus. Within a few days, these scientists and others from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) showed that the virus was a new and deadly type of coronavirus. These efforts subsequently sparked worldwide efforts to rapidly develop diagnostic tests, drugs, and vaccines for the SARS virus.
The genetic material, RNA, contained in the SARS virus is very difficult to manipulate in the lab. Researchers generated a form of the SARS virus that is easier to work with. Researchers will be able to use it to study the structure and function of viral proteins, and use the information to develop SARS vaccine candidates.
An ongoing program for conducting influenza surveillance in the live bird markets of Hong Kong was expanded to search for animal carriers of the SARS virus. Researchers traveled to live animal markets in China and determined that some of the samples taken from two animals, the palm civet and the raccoon dog, were positive for the SARS virus. These results were the first report of isolation of a SARS-like virus from animals.
Although it is unknown whether these animals are a natural reservoir for SARS virus, live animal markets provide opportunities for animal viruses to spread directly to humans.