SARS Virus Identified

Medical Author: Frederick Hecht, M.D.
Medical Editors: Barbara K. Hecht, Ph.D. and Leslie J. Schoenfield, M.D., Ph.D.

The virus of SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) has been identified, according to two reports released online by The New England Journal of Medicine (April 10, 2003). It turns out that the SARS virus is a novel coronavirus.

One of the reports in The New England Journal of Medicine is first-authored by Thomas G. Ksiazek from the Center for Disease Control (CDC) in Atlanta. The other report is first-authored by Christian Drosten from Hamburg, Germany.

Ksiazek Report: Specimens from patients in 6 countries were tested using virus isolation techniques, an electron microscope, and other tools to try to identify the virus. Electron microscopy revealed features characteristic of coronaviruses. A very sensitive molecular method called reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) was also used. This technique revealed a chemical (nucleotide) sequence of DNAthat clearly identified a unique coronavirus.In fact, this virusis only distantly related to other known coronaviruses. For the decisive test, specific RT-PCR segments of DNA (primers) wereused to identify identical nucleotide sequences in 12 other SARS patients from several locations. This finding is consistent with a point source outbreak; that is,with an outbreak that began in a single location.Furthermore, it appears that this virus may never before have infected the US population.