Tuesday, June 25

SARS sparks spread of research and discussion


A group of professionals discussed the scientific, political,
social and economic aspects of severe acute respiratory syndrome at
Bunche Hall on Thursday; the impact of the virus hit home for some
upon learning that the University of California would not have an
Education Abroad Program in Beijing in summer or fall 2003.

SARS has killed 750 people so far and has infected 8,295. Though
the number of infections is decreasing, UCLA epidemiologist Roger
Detels predicts SARS will follow the path of influenza and
“probably have a winter-based cycle;” the infections
will probably slow down over the summer but increase as winter
approaches.

In the meantime, scientists are working to isolate the virus
that causes SARS.

Ren Sun, a member of the department of molecular and medical
pharmacology, says an unconfirmed study has found that SARS has a
gene sequence that is 99 percent homologous to animal coronavirus.
Coronavirus can be found in many different species of animals,
including the civet cat, which is eaten in China. Coronavirus has
very few, if any, negative effects on its wild animal hosts.

Sun also notes the research done for HIV will be instrumental in
developing drugs to fight SARS. SARS, like HIV, is an RNA virus.
RNA viruses replicate much faster than DNA viruses and, thus,
mutate much more as well. Sun believes the best way to combat SARS
is either by inhibiting viral replication or by injecting
antibodies into infected individuals.

Viral inhibition, the process of preventing a virus from
replicating, is possible because SARS coronavirus contains the
enzyme proteinase, which is necessary for replication. Sun
explained that by inhibiting the proteinase, the virus will not be
able to mature and thus cannot replicate.

The average death rate for SARS is about 9 percent. However, it
is as high as 16.67 percent in the Philippines, and as low as 0
percent in the United States, where none of the country’s 66
cases have died.

Zuo-Feng Zhang, a UCLA professor of epidemiology, said the
United States might have such a low death rate because of its
health care system, but it may also be because the United States
had the advantage of seeing SARS cases in other parts of the world
before the cases came to the country.

Lynda Bell, former director of the Beijing UC EAP, described the
panic SARS caused in Beijing before the program was closed
down.

“There’s SARS, and there’s “˜SARS panic
system’ ““ this you can get too, and it’s
dangerous,” she said.

Bell said she became paranoid and thought she had the illness
after developing a sore throat. She also noted that she washed her
hands so much that she said, “at one point, I actually
thought I had no skin left on my hands.”

The SARS risk has temporarily closed down the EAP program in
Beijing. Students in Beijing were sent home in April, and Bell says
the fall program will not take place because the university does
not know when students will be able to begin classes or where they
will live. The summer program was canceled, as well.

Students at Peking and Beijing Normal universities, where EAP
students usually study, are currently quarantined. No new students
are allowed access to either campus or the school dorms.

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