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Deadly new virus could be controlled with drugs

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
February 19th, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

A mysterious new virus that has arisen in the Middle East last year that many have likened to SARS has killed five people. While it poses a threat to the population, scientists say the disease could potentially be treated with drugs that boost the immune system, scientists say.

LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - The virus, called novel coronavirus or NCoV, is from the same family as the common cold and SARS. There have been 12 confirmed cases worldwide, including in Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Britain and five patients have died from the illness.

Researchers said it could penetrate the lining of passageways in the lungs and evade the immune system as easily as a cold virus can. This proves the virus \"grows very efficiently\" in human cells and suggests it is well-equipped for infecting humans, Volker Thiel of the Institute of Immunobiology at Kantonal Hospital in Switzerland says.

Dubbed NCoV, the virus was identified when the World Health Organization issued an international alert in September saying a new virus had infected a Qatari man in Britain who had recently been in Saudi Arabia.

Coronaviruses are a family of viruses that includes those that cause the common cold as well as the one that caused SARS. That disease emerged in China in 2002 and killed about a 10th of the 8,000 people it had infected worldwide.

Symptoms of both NCoV and SARS include severe respiratory illness, fever, coughing and breathing difficulties. Of the 12 cases confirmed so far, four were in Britain, one was a Qatari patient in Germany, two were in Jordan and five in Saudi Arabia.

There is a possibility that the virus may have come from animals. Experts at Britain\'s Health Protection Agency say preliminary scientific analysis suggests its closest relatives are bat coronaviruses.

What's not yet known is what the true prevalence of the virus is. As it is possible that the 12 cases seen so far are the most severe, and there may be more people who have contracted the virus with milder symptoms so are not picked up.

\"We don\'t know whether the cases (so far) are the tip of the iceberg, or whether many more people are infected without showing severe symptoms,\" Thiel says. "We don\'t have enough cases to have a full picture of the variety of symptoms.\"

Thiel said that although the virus may have jumped from animals to humans very recently, his research showed it was just as well adapted to infecting the human respiratory tract as other coronaviruses like SARS and the common cold viruses.

NCoV is susceptible to treatment with interferons, medicines that boost the immune system and which are also successfully used to treat other viral diseases like Hepatitis C.

This opens up a possible mode of treatment in the event of a large-scale outbreak, the scientists said.

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