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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

SARS Mystery: Mixed Signals

Aired April 5, 2003 - 06:50   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: We're going to break from war news for just a bit to talk about SARS, because it's become a major health concern, as you probably know.
Federal health officials now have the power to quarantine Americans who contract the new highly contagious respiratory illness.

In the meantime, as CNN's Peter Viles reports, there is mixed news on progress being made in treating this potentially deadly virus.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

PETER VILES, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Some southern China reports that the spread of SARS is now actually slowing down. Researchers at 11 labs around the world report quick progress in identifying the mystery virus that causes SARS. But from the White House and from the CDC in Atlanta, more caution.

Question to the CDC: Are companies overreacting if they cancel travel to all of Asia? Here's how the CDC responded.

DR. JAMES HUGHES, INFECTIOUS DISEASES, CDC: Well, you know, this is an outbreak-in-progress in evolution. We certainly haven't seen the end of this, and we have to stay tuned to the reporting. And I'm not going to be complacent. We're not totally on top of this by any means.

VILES: But the CDC also reported progress in solving the SARS mystery. It now believes SARS is caused by a never-before-seen corona virus, a virus now being mapped.

RICHARD CARMONA, SURGEON GENERAL: I think that the mystery is coming to closure. I think that this is unprecedented public health response. Never is it like in the history of our country has something like this ever happened.

VILES: There is no cure yet, but the CDC is testing antiviral agents with some early success. Results on a diagnostic test also -- quote -- "promising."

The CDC says 18 teams are working on the SARS mystery in coordination with 11 labs around the world.

DR. JYOTI SUMANI, SCHOOL OF MEDICINE, EMORY UNIVERSITY: This has been incredibly fast, even compared to HIV, which took, you know, a few years to identify exactly what virus it was, let alone sequencing it. VILES: The origin of the virus still a mystery. Corona viruses do exist in animals, a possibility under investigation.

There are now 115 suspected SARS cases in the United States, 109 of those are people who traveled recently to an infected area, 4 were in close contact with a sick traveler, 2 are health care workers.

(on camera): One reason for the aggressive CDC response: The CDC said today that it views this challenge over SARS in part as a -- quote -- "fire drill for how it would respond in the case of biological terrorism."

Peter Viles, CNN, New York.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

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