Scientists have partially decoded the genetic sequence of a new virus, which has killed one man and hospitalized another.
When an unknown virus emerges, disease detectives turn to gene sequencers to identify the culprit. So when a new type of coronavirus killed a man in Saudia Arabia and hospitalized another in the U.K., investigators got cracking. Both patients showed symptoms similar SARS. But thanks to fast and accurate gene sequencing, health officials quickly realized that this isn’t SARS or even a known coronavirus that causes colds. Rather it’s a totally new virus that needs to be handled with caution until more is known about it. Scientists at Britain’s Health Protection Agency have now partially decoded the new virus’s genetic sequence. They’ve placed the virus on the family tree of coronaviruses and given it a temporary namel: London1_novel CoV 2012.
The virus appears to be most closely related to a cluster of bat viruses, and « it is genetically very different than SARS, » Ralph Baric, a microbiologist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, tells Shots. But the DNA sequence isn’t just a tool for hanging the virus on the right branch of the family tree. It has helped health workers rapidly respond to the disease in ways they couldn’t when SARS emerged in China in 2002.
With the virus’s code at their fingertips, health workers alerted the WHO about the potential dangers of the virus just three weeks after the second patient showed symptoms. With the SARS epidemic, it took over three months — and hundreds of infected people — before the WHO was contacted. That epidemic caused over 8,000 infections and killed nearly a thousand people.
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