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Last Updated

18 Jun 2003

Source: BBC News, June 18, 2003

Further Sars outbreaks loom

By Ania Lichtarowicz, BBC health reporter in Kuala Lumpur

The source of the virus which causes Sars may never be found, according to the World Health Organization. Experts are discussing the possible origins of the corona virus responsible for the majority of Sars cases at the first ever global conference on the disease in Malaysia.

The current Sars outbreak has been contained and many doctors will now be looking at trying to eradicate the disease for good. But to do this, they need to find where the Corona virus, which is known to cause Sars, came from. The most popular theory at present is that it was passed on to humans from animals in the Guandong region of China. Dr David Heymann, the director of communicable diseases at the WHO, says the virus has been found in both farm and domestic animals. "The civit cat may have just accidentally picked this up in a market where it was stored with other live animals," he said. "There are many, many possibilities. Or it may be that the civit cat picked it up from something in the environment."

Many questions

"It's possible that it went the other way. If there were human faeces which contained the virus and an animal was close to those human faeces, it could pick it up from the environment," he theorised. "So there are many questions. Each study advances the knowledge a little bit more. "Now there must be systematic testing of hypotheses as to what might be the cause and then testing to see whether this is the case," he said.

Finding the origin of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome may be impossible. At best it will take many months, but more likely years. The good news is, though, that currently the disease is under control despite doctors not having drugs or a vaccine to protect against it. The WHO says the outbreak highlights how new deadly microbes can spread quickly around the world, and should act as a wake-up call to the very real danger of emerging diseases.