Killer flu virus has already struck Australia: Expert

The Malaysia Today, Thursday, March 20 2003

SYDNEY: A virus blamed for a deadly form of pneumonia which has claimed at least 11 lives around the world is linked to one which struck in Australia seven years ago with fatal results, an Australian expert said yesterday.  

Researchers in Hong Kong have identified the so-called Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) that has sparked a global health emergency as a virus belonging to the paramyxoviridae family. 

German investigators have also identified a paramyxovirus-like organism in specimens taken from a patient with SARS, which has infected hundreds of people worldwide.  

The paramyxovirus, which can be spread from animals and humans, is linked to the equine morbillivirus which killed an Australian trainer Vic Rail in 1994, expert Dominic Dwyer said yesterday.  

The equine morbillivirus was thought to have jumped from a horse to the trainer, said Dwyer, a doctor at the Centre for Infectious Diseases and Microbiology at Sydney's Westmead Hospital.  

Dwyer described the Hong Kong report as "plausible," saying an unknown paramyxovirus had been very high on the list of possible causes.

"Paramyxoviruses are a large group of viruses, there's a whole range of them some of them we know cause respiratory disease and some of them have been new ones," he said.  

He believed identification of the virus would represent a breakthrough in containing and treating the outbreak for which there was still no specific treatment and no vaccine. 

"But it does allow you to say, this is the pattern of spread, this is the incubation period and these are the infection control and public health measures you need to put in place," he said.

However, Dwyer said more information was needed on the specific form of virus involved.  

"Until we get some, more information we don't know whether it's an animal one that's crossed over and spread around in humans or whether it's a human one that just happens to have become more virulent," he said.  

"Once you have the organism, you can then develop tests. In broad terms we wouldn't have tests at this stage but at least this gives us a direction to head." -AFP