Medical experts on the Chinese mainland have found ways in the lab to diagnose SARS. This has made an early diagnosis of SARS possible. They are also researching medicines to prevent the disease. As the pathogen is unknown, the way to finally develop the vaccine is still difficult.
These viruses are edged with a corona-liked halo, giving the name "coronavirus". They are the culprit of the lethal epidemic SARS.
To separate them from SARS patients is dangerous work. But that doesn't stop the scientists at the Military Academy of Medical Sciences and they feel they are succeeding.
Professor Zhu Qing Yu of Military Academy of Medical Sciences said: "The traditional corona-virus is one of the pathogens of common flu, the mortality rate is less than one percent. But, this SARS corona-virus is different in terms of mortality rate which is much higher, up to 3.5 percent, and the genetic code is different, it might be a new type of corona-virus. And now there is no evidence that it comes from animals."
After making the first step by separating the corona-virus, they have succeeded in mapping out its geno sequence. This has helped them to find two quick ways of diagnosing the disease in the laboratory.
The first takes two hours by examining the serum of SARS patients. Professor Qin E'de of Military Academy of Medical Sciences said: "A person will develop anti-bodies once being attacked by certain viruses and the anti-body stays in the serum. By examining the serum, we identify the anti-body. By blending it with the separated SARS virus in colored reagent, the result can effectively diagnose the illness."
The result is shown under the microscope. This serum method is effective in early diagnosis even if there aren't typical symptoms like high fever and dry coughing. This will help curb the spread of the disease.
The other way follows the same theory, but takes shorter time, some 1.5 hours and can examine a large quantities of cases at one time. The naked eye can see the results.
Chang Guohui from Military Academy of Medical Sciences said: "The yellow means positive and the white, negative. And light yellow is hard to tell and we need a special machine to have final diagnosis. China's major hospitals have the equipment."
Experts say the two ways are fast and efficient with an accuracy rate of above 95 percent. But the research is still kept within the lab and will soon be put into clinical use.
In another development, a new medicine to prevent SARS is being researched. Scientists said the geno-advanced medicine can resist the attack of SARS.
Professor Chen Wei of Military Academy of Medical Sciences said: "As the pathogen has not yet being identified, we can only guess at the medicine with unclear statistics. But I can tell you that today we have got experiment results which shows the medicines enable the cells to resist the SARS virus."
Professor Chen Wei said the medicine has been tested on rats, monkeys and even human beings and there have been few side-effects. She expects it will walk out of the lab in the foreseeable future.
Despite all this progress, the vital thing is to have a vaccine. And it remains the biggest challenge for scientists worldwide.
(CCTV News April 23, 2003)