Secrets of new SARS-like virus uncovered (Update)

March 13, 2013 by Barbara Bronson Gray, Healthday Reporter
Secrets of new SARS-like virus uncovered
Finding shows how it enters cells, could lead to vaccine, researchers report.

A discovery that shows how a novel—and often fatal—virus infects cells may help fight a health threat that has recently emerged on the world stage, researchers report.

A unique coronavirus was identified as the cause of severe respiratory illness in 14 people from Jordan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Kingdom between April 2012 and February 2013, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Eight people have died after contracting the virus.

Coronaviruses—named for their crown-like projections visible under a microscope—are causes of the common cold but also are associated with more severe illness, such as SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome), which killed hundreds of people worldwide in 2003.

Although no deaths have been reported in the United States, the fact that there were clusters of people infected in the United Kingdom shows the new virus can be transmitted between humans, according to the CDC.

Now there's a possible clue on how to stop the virus, which was first identified last September. Dutch researchers said they've identified the receptor that is used by the coronavirus to invade cells.

Approaches to preventing the virus from binding to the receptor and gaining entry to cells may help combat infection, said study author Bart Haagmans, a virologist at the Erasmus Medical Center, in Rotterdam. "These findings provide further insight into how the virus causes severe pneumonia, as the receptor is present in the lower respiratory tract [trachea, airways or lungs]," he explained.

The research was published in the March 14 issue of the journal Nature.

The severity of the disease appears to vary, mirroring minor flu-like infections in some people and becoming life-threatening in others. Those with the most serious infections seem to have had other viral or bacterial infections at the same time, which may help explain the more severe cases, experts said.

The virus doesn't seem as contagious as seasonal flu, and Haagmans said this appears to confirm the role of the receptor he identified. "This may be due to the fact that the receptor is minimally expressed in cells of the upper respiratory tract," he said. "Therefore, it is also unlikely that the virus can become much more capable of spreading more universally."

The discovery of the receptor could potentially help researchers inhibit the spread of the virus, said Haagmans. One approach would be to develop a vaccine that securely locked the cell door to the coronavirus receptor, preventing the virus from being able to storm the cell.

Haagmans said he doesn't know why the virus seems to be deadly. He said it's possible that scores of people with a less harmful form of the disease have not been identified, due to limited testing in the Arabian Peninsula, where the disease seems to have originated.

Analysis of the virus's genome showed that it is related to coronaviruses found in bats. Coronaviruses can infect a wide range of mammals and birds, and are considered to have what is called "zoonotic potential," which means they can be transmitted to people.

Dr. Susan Gerber, a medical epidemiologist with the division of viral diseases at the CDC, said she thinks Haagmans's research will be valuable because it helps scientists understand what happens at the cellular level of the disease. "This is going to be very important in the treatment of the virus," she said.

Yet Gerber stressed that there is still much to learn about the virus and the infection it causes. "There are so few cases that have been identified of this virus infection," she said. "We need more information."

The CDC is advising people who develop severe acute lower respiratory illnesses, such as pneumonia, within 10 days after traveling from the Arabian Peninsula or neighboring countries to see their health provider.

The agency also recommended that those who haven't traveled to the Arabian Peninsula but come into close contact with someone who has should be evaluated if they develop a severe acute lower respiratory illness.

Explore further: New coronavirus has many potential hosts, could pass from animals to humans repeatedly

More information: Paper: dx.doi.org/10.1038/nature12005

Learn more about the new coronavirus from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Related Stories

New coronavirus has many potential hosts, could pass from animals to humans repeatedly

December 11, 2012
The SARS epidemic of 2002-2003 was short-lived, but a novel type of human coronavirus that is alarming public health authorities can infect cells from humans and bats alike, a fact that could make the animals a continuing ...

Novel coronavirus well-adapted to humans, susceptible to immunotherapy

February 19, 2013
The new coronavirus that has emerged in the Middle East is well-adapted to infecting humans but could potentially be treated with immunotherapy, according to a study to be published on February 19 in mBio, the online open-access ...

WHO: Two more cases of new virus in Jordan (Update)

November 30, 2012
International health officials have confirmed two more fatal cases of a mysterious respiratory virus in the Middle East.

UK patient dies from SARS-like coronavirus

February 19, 2013
(AP)—A patient being treated for a mysterious SARS-like virus has died, a British hospital said Tuesday.

Qatari with SARS-like virus on artificial lung: UK hospital

September 25, 2012
A Qatari man suffering from a mystery respiratory virus from the same family as the deadly disease SARS is on an artificial lung to keep him alive, a British hospital said Tuesday.

Recommended for you

Google searches can be used to track dengue in underdeveloped countries

July 20, 2017
An analytical tool that combines Google search data with government-provided clinical data can quickly and accurately track dengue fever in less-developed countries, according to new research published in PLOS Computational ...

MRSA emerged years before methicillin was even discovered

July 19, 2017
Methicillin resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) emerged long before the introduction of the antibiotic methicillin into clinical practice, according to a study published in the open access journal Genome Biology. It was ...

New test distinguishes Zika from similar viral infections

July 18, 2017
A new test is the best-to-date in differentiating Zika virus infections from infections caused by similar viruses. The antibody-based assay, developed by researchers at UC Berkeley and Humabs BioMed, a private biotechnology ...

'Superbugs' study reveals complex picture of E. coli bloodstream infections

July 18, 2017
The first large-scale genetic study of Escherichia coli (E. coli) cultured from patients with bloodstream infections in England showed that drug resistant 'superbugs' are not always out-competing other strains. Research by ...

Ebola virus can persist in monkeys that survived disease, even after symptoms disappear

July 17, 2017
Ebola virus infection can be detected in rhesus monkeys that survive the disease and no longer show symptoms, according to research published by Army scientists in today's online edition of the journal Nature Microbiology. ...

Mountain gorillas have herpes virus similar to that found in humans

July 13, 2017
Scientists from the University of California, Davis, have detected a herpes virus in wild mountain gorillas that is very similar to the Epstein-Barr virus in humans, according to a study published today in the journal Scientific ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.