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Monkey Research Gives Insights Into New SARS-Like Virus

WEDNESDAY, April 3 (HealthDay News) -- U.S. researchers say a newly developed model of infection in monkeys is giving valuable information on an emerging SARS-like virus that has health officials worried worldwide.

The new coronavirus was first spotted in September and is similar to the SARS virus that killed hundreds globally a decade ago. So far, 17 people in the Middle East and Europe have become infected with the new virus, and 11 of them have died.

According to researchers from the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), a model of infection developed in rhesus macaque monkeys indicates that illness symptoms begin to show within 24 hours of infection with the new strain. Those symptoms can include loss of appetite, fever, changes in breathing, cough and goosebumps, said a team led by Vincent Munster, chief of the virus ecology unit at the NIAID's Laboratory of Virology.

In both monkeys and humans, the real danger comes from the fact that infection triggers illness deep in the lungs that can turn into pneumonia, the researchers said in an NIAID news release. The illness does not, however, seem to spread easily person-to-person, and the NIAID team hopes to find out whether the infection site, which is in the lower respiratory tract not the upper tract, might be a reason why.

The researchers published their findings online April 3 in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Although cases of the new infection have so far occurred outside of North America, health officials are concerned that the illness could appear in the United States or Canada.

"We're on the alert looking for this, and I think that's why these cases are now being discovered," Dr. William Schaffner, chairman of preventive medicine at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tenn., told last week. "People with puzzling pneumonia who we can't figure out what's going on right away are having specimens taken and sent to the reference lab for testing."

Officials at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said they have alerted health departments in states and municipalities across the country to look out for suspicious illnesses among people who have recently been to the Middle East.

More information

There's more on the new virus at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Protection.

-- E.J. Mundell

SOURCES: April 3, 2013, news release, U.S. National Institutes of Health;, March 28, 2013

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