Doctors Solve Mystery of Deadly Pneumonia Virus | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 19.03.2003
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Doctors Solve Mystery of Deadly Pneumonia Virus

Doctors have identified a deadly pneumonia virus that has killed at least 14 people and left hundreds ill around the world. Meanwhile, a clinic in Germany confirmed Tuesday that the killer virus had reached its doorstep.


Severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) usually manifests itself in flu-like symtoms.

Doctors in Hong Kong have identified the family of a deadly pneumonia virus that has killed 14 people so far and put several hundred in intensive care.

Hong Kong Health Minister, Yeoh Eng-kiong told reporters that Germany and Taiwan had reported patients with a virus similar to Hong Kong's. Known as severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), those affected usually first display flu-like symptoms, with the condition deteriorating dramatically within days.

Virus strain discovered

Laboratories worldwide have been working to identify the virus strain and a breakthrough has now been achieved by a team of medical experts in Hong Kong. Microbiology professor John Tam, part of the Hong Kong team that made the discovery, said: "From the shape of the virus, it belongs to the paramyxoviridae family."

The paramyxoviridae strain includes a large group of viruses that can trigger illnesses both in humans and in animals. Among the widely spread human viruses of the group are included viruses causing measles, mumps as well as the parainfluenza virus and the pneumovirus, that can lead to respiratory illnesses particularly among children. The virus is mostly transported through air -- through coughing, for instance.

Doctors and scientists hope the identification of the virus family will make it easier to diagnose the disease and enable experts to work on a vaccine.

Meanwhile, three more people had died by Wednesday in Hong Kong and one in Vietnam, taking the death toll to 14.

Infection case in Frankfurt confirmed

A medical clinic in Frankfurt, Germany, confirmed on Tuesday that a 32-year-old doctor from Singapore, a physician who had treated one of the first pneumonia cases, was suffering from the deadly pneumonia virus -- which is believed to have originated in China.

"We're sure, that that's it," the head of the Frankfurt isolation unit, Hans-Reinhard Brodt said.

The doctor's pregnant wife was also brought to the quarantine unit on Monday night after she developed fever and then displayed further symtoms. Doctors are hopeful that the Singaporean doctor will survive the illness.

Meanwhile, a further suspected case of infection with the dangerous pneumonia virus has turned up in Berlin. Doctors believe that the risk of an infection is highly likely for the 28-year-old patient who has returned from Shanghai.

Virus strikes in the U.S. and Britain too

The pneumonia virus also appears to have inflicted people in the United States and Britain. Health authorities in Los Angeles announced a suspected case Monday, though the condition of the patient was described as "non life-threatening."

U.S. health authorities say there are currenty four cases of patients being examined for SARS. A British national is also being treated for SARS-like symptoms at a hospital in Manchester.

WHO issues global warning

The illness is considered to be so insidious that the World Health Organization (WHO) has issued its first global health warning in 10 years. It describes the ailment as a worldwide threat and advises travelers, especially to Asia, to watch out for symptoms such as fever, muscleache, hoarseness, breathlessness and coughing.

However, WHO sees no reason to issue travel warnings to Asia since SARS can only be contracted through direct contact.

Countries where the virus is believed to be the most rampant are Singapore, Canada and Taiwan, with linked cases in Australia, Britain, Brunei, Spain, U.S. and Germany.