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AIDS Link Seen Helpful in Fight Against SARS - 2003-05-11


Hong Kong scientists have found that protein fragments used to fight the HIV virus may help combat Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome. And Taipei will make commuters wear face masks in hope of curtailing the spread of SARS.

Researchers at Hong Kong University on Sunday said that protein fragments known as peptides used to protect cells from the HIV virus have proven similarly useful against SARS.

They say experiments on tissue samples also show the virus that causes Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome attacks cells in a way that is similar to HIV.

Dr. David Ho, internationally known for his AIDS research in the United States, conducted the experiments in conjunction with Hong Kong University.

He says that when the peptides were introduced into a culture containing the SARS virus and human cells, many cells remained healthy. When a sample of cells was exposed to SARS without the peptides, they eventually died.

"We are certainly pleased with the result that several of these peptides have protected the cells from SARS infections," said Dr. Ho, who added that the peptides are not a treatment, but may offer clues for finding new drugs to treat SARS.

Hong Kong doctors are struggling to find more effective treatments for SARS. Until recently, most patients in Hong Kong were given an antiviral drug and high doses of steroids. But there is concern the drugs do little to help patients and might even harm them. On Sunday, Health Director Margaret Chan said that not only is the number of new infections declining in Hong Kong, but also epidemiologists can trace the source of all new SARS infections.

"The number of cases reported today are four of them," said Ms. Chan. "We were able to identify linkage to previous clusters to previous hospital admission and to travel history."

Hong Kong has the world's second largest outbreak, with almost 1,700 cases and 215 deaths.

The number of new SARS infections in mainland China is also on the decline. China reported 69 new cases and five deaths on Sunday. The country has seen nearly 5,000 cases in total, and 240 deaths.

Leaders in Taipei ordered subway and rail commuters to wear face masks after 12 new cases were reported on Sunday. The island's outbreak appears to be rapidly increasing. The government is installing video cameras to watch over more than 8,000 people quarantined in their homes. SARS has killed 23 people in Taiwan.

More than 7,300 people in over 25 countries have been infected with SARS, which causes a serious pneumonia. More than 525 have died from the disease.