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HIV came from people eating chimps

A Celestial Origin for SARS?

Don't forget the ticks

NEWS ARTICLE from The Plain Dealer, 6-8-03, By Harlan Spector, Plain Dealer Reporter

``SARS spread has not ended, expert tells gathering at CSU

While foil-covered containers of rice and vegetable dishes awaited sampling as usual at the Asian Heritage Day Celebration yesterday, a seminar on SARS became the newest entree in the annual event.

The lightning-quick emergence of SARS [acronym for Sudden Acute Respiratory Syndrome or Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome] as a worldwide threat brought Tun-Hou Lee, a virology expert from Harvard University, to Cleveland with a message: Future outbreaks are not a question of if, but when.

"It's going to spread, and it's going to be profound," Lee said during a talk at the festival, held at Cleveland State University ...

Among the questions, Lee said, is whether the virus mutates as it spreads among animals and humans, and whether people with no symptoms can transmit SARS.

"Disease does not respect borders. No community can really be safe," he said.

Dr. Masao Yu, president of the Asian Pacific American Federation, the celebration organizer, said the seminar is important because he expects SARS will make its way to Cleveland.

"Cleveland is becoming an international city, and we must be aware," he said. "I'm a family practitioner, and right now we are ignorant about SARS." ...

The AIDS epidemic also was a subject of discussion during the health forum at Heritage Day. Central Asia is among the regions where HIV and AIDS are spreading the fastest, said Dr. Rafael Mazin of the Pan American Health Organization, an arm of the WHO. There are 6.6 million people infected in the Asia-Pacific region, including 1 million new infections in 2001, he said ...

To reach this Plain Dealer reporter: hspector@plaind.com

Questions and Answers: The Cause of SARS, May 13, 2003

What is the cause of SARS?

Scientists at CDC and other laboratories have detected a previously unrecognized coronavirus in patients with SARS. This new coronavirus is the leading hypothesis for the cause of SARS.

What are coronaviruses?

Coronaviruses are a group of viruses that have a halo or crown-like (corona) appearance when viewed under a microscope. These viruses are a common cause of mild to moderate upper-respiratory illness in humans and are associated with respiratory, gastrointestinal, liver and neurologic disease in animals.

How long can the SARS coronavirus (SARS Co-V) survive in the environment?

Preliminary studies in some research laboratories suggest that the virus may survive in the environment for several days. The length of time that the virus survives likely depends on a number of factors. These factors could include the type of material or body fluid containing the virus and various environmental conditions such as temperature or humidity.

Information from The World Chelonian Trust

In the last few days, it has come to light that palm civets and possibly other small mammals such as badgers and raccoon dogs sold in the animal markets of southern China may be responsible for the worldwide SARS outbreak ...

It should be noted that the animal that the scientists are referring to in these stories is the Palm Civet, Paguma larvata. Contrary to some of the initial media reports, Palm Civets and Civet cats are very different species ...

The apparent causative agent for this disease is a corona virus based on ongoing research in Hong Kong. Much like the bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) outbreak in the United Kingdom in 1993, it appears that inadequate preparation of the meat is the cause for this severe zoonotic health issue.

With the eyes of the world upon China, our hope at the World Chelonian Trust is that the Chinese government will take the necessary steps to prevent the reoccurrence of this type of worldwide human health problem. It is also our hope that the illegal trafficking of turtles and tortoises (chelonians) in the markets of southern China will come to a complete halt ...

While the current health crisis is focused on small mammals such as palm civets, the transmission of disease via the consumption of reptiles as well as the absolutely crushing issue of the impending extinction for numerous chelonian taxa in and around China mandate that the reptiles in these markets also be thoroughly regulated. The dangers of disease transmission, in particular Salmonella, to people cannot be discounted ...

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NEWS ARTICLE from The Plain Dealer, 6-13-03, By Paul Recer, Associated Press

``Study finds HIV came from people eating chimps who ate monkeys

WASHINGTON -- The ancestry of the virus that caused the AIDS epidemic has been traced to two strains of virus found in monkeys in Africa.

The viruses probably passed into chimpanzees when the apes ate infected monkey meat, researchers say.

Earlier studies have shown that HIV1, the virus that causes the most common form of human AIDS, originated from a simian immunodeficiency virus, or SIV, that is found in chimpanzees. But how chimps came to have SIV has been a mystery.

U.S. and British researchers analyzed the genetic pattern of a number of SIV strains in African monkeys and concluded that at least two strains found in the red-capped mangabeys and in the greater spot-nosed monkeys in south-central Africa combined to form the type of SIV now found in African chimps.

It was this form of SIV that spread into the human population to start the HIV1 epidemic, which has killed millions of people, researchers report today in the journal Science.

"The recombination of these monkey viruses happened in chimpanzees, and the chimp transmitted it to humans on at least three occasions," said Frederic Bibollet-Ruche, a virologist at the University of Alabama, Birmingham, and a co-author of the study. "The transfer between chimps and humans probably happened before 1930."

Bibollet-Ruche said that three types of HIV1, called M, N and O, probably were transmitted from chimps to humans decades ago. A second type of AIDs, called HIV2, is known to have been transmitted from the sooty man gabey in West Africa to humans directly, without going through the chimp ...

The viruses were most likely spread from species to species when chimps eat monkey meat and hunters in Africa eat chimp meat, Bibollet-Ruche said ...

Although SIV can infect chimps and the lower monkeys, the virus does not cause disease in those animals. Bibollet-Ruche said that the virus attacks the white blood cells, called CD4 cells, but it does not make the animals sick or cause a decline in their white blood cells.

In humans, HIV attacks and kills white blood cells and eventually overwhelms the body's ability to replace them. Without these disease-fighting white blood cells, the body becomes defenseless against infections that are easily controlled by the immune system in healthy people ...''

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ARTICLE from National Geographic News, 6-3-03, By Stefan Lovgren

[A Celestial Origin for SARS?]

``The source of SARS has mystified medical experts. Some believe it evolved naturally in humans. Others say it must have jumped from an animal, maybe a chicken or an exotic bird. But one group of British scientists suggests a more far-out origin: space.

In a letter to the British medical journal The Lancet, Chandra Wickramasinghe, from Cardiff University in Wales, and other scientists, propose that SARS may have originated in outer space then fallen down to Earth and landed in China, where the outbreak began ...

The idea may not be as outlandish as it first appears. One hundred tons (90 metric tons) of space debris fall on Earth every day; some scientists believe as much as one ton (0.9 metric ton) of bacteria [? or micro-organisms in general] from space is part of that daily deposit.

Particles carrying the SARS virus could have come from a comet, the researchers say, and released into the debris trail of the comet's tail. The Earth's passage through the stream would have led to the entry of the culprit particles.

"We're not saying this is definitely what happened," said Wickramasinghe, who is also the director of the Cardiff Centre for Astrobiology, a research effort that seeks evidence of extraterrestrial life. "But the theory should not be ruled out." ...

Although SARS has been identified as a coronavirus, the virus is unexpectedly novel. An independent evolution of the virus may have been required, which, Wickramasinghe says, adds credibility to his argument that SARS has an external origin.

According to his theory, a small amount of the virus introduced into the stratosphere could have led to an initial fallout east of the Himalayas, where the stratosphere is thinnest, followed by sporadic deposits in neighboring areas.

"There would be a first point of descent," said Wickramasinghe. "This could have been in China." ... In an experiment two years ago, he and scientists from the Bangalore-based Indian Space Research Organization sent sterile collecting devices into space and brought back large quantities of microorganisms in samples of stratospheric air captured at an altitude of 26 miles (41 kilometers). The researchers were able to culture, or grow, two types of microorganisms, which proved similar to known terrestrial species.

"Our findings lend support to the view that microbial material falling from space is, in a Darwinian sense, highly evolved, with an evolutionary history closely related to life that exists on Earth," said Wickramasinghe.

He estimates that a ton (0.9 metric ton) of bacterial material falls onto Earth every day, translating into more than 1,000 types of bacteria. Most of this material simply adds to the unculturable or uncultured microbial flora present on Earth.

The researchers argue that the random nature of epidemics adds credence to their argument that disease-causing bacteria and viruses may be evolving in outer space, parallel to those on Earth.

"New epidemics have a record of abrupt entrances from time to time," said Wickramasinghe. "The patterns of spread of these diseases are difficult to explain simply on the basic of endemic infective agents."

He says the unusual nature of major epidemics, such as the influenza epidemic of 1917-19, where infection rates were not easily explained by epidemiological modeling, bears the hallmarks of a space incident.

"Although person-to-person spread occurred in local areas, the disease appeared on the same day in widely separated parts of the world on the one hand, but, on the other, took days to weeks to spread relatively short distances," said Wickramasinghe.

The idea that SARS may have originated from space is based on the argument that life first appeared on Earth some four billion years ago when the Earth suffered a prolonged period of comet impacts.

This is a controversial theory. Most scientists believe that life on Earth began as a "primordial soup" in a lake or pond some 3.5 billion years ago: Chemicals from the atmosphere combined with some form of energy necessary to make amino acids (the building blocks of proteins) to create the first primitive organisms, kicking off the evolution of all species on Earth.

Wickramasinghe disagrees. He believes life did not start on Earth, but evolved on a much bigger scale, in a cluster of galaxies. Earth merely became an "assembly station" for all the cosmic genes ...''

See more on panspermia.

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LETTER TO THE EDITOR of The Morning Journal, 6-03, By Rhonna Smith

With all the attention on SARS and West Nile Virus, all concern for other deadly emerging diseases is being pushed to the back of the line. Everyone needs to be aware that ticks transmit some of the worst -- Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, Ehrlichiosis and Babesiosis.

Lyme disease is the fastest growing infectious disease in the U.S., and is found in all 50 states. Over 18,000 cases are reported each year to the CDC, which they admit is only about one tenth of the actual number because the disease is so under diagnosed and under reported.

Ohio ranks about 12th to 16th on the CDC list every year. Treated soon after the tick bite, Lyme disease can be wiped out. Without early treatment, Lyme disease can spread to every system of the body and become chronic, debilitating and even fatal,

Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever can be fatal if not treated soon after the infection by a tick. There have been over 50 deaths in Ohio from the disease in the past 40 years. The number of cases in Ohio is on the rise.

Ehrlichiosis and Babesiosis can infect your pets, as can Lyme disease. In humans, Ehrlichiosis can be fatal if left untreated and Babesiosis can be as chronic and debilitating as malaria - fatal if you have had your spleen removed.

Watch out for ticks. Wear light colored clothes, use insect repellents, check for ticks on yourself, your kids and your pets.

If you find an attached tick, remove it with a pointed tweezers or a special tick remover. NO Vaseline, gasoline, nail polish or hot matches; they only guarantee the tick will infect you. Put the tick in a sealed container - a zip-lock bag will do - to show it to your doctor. Wipe the bite area with an antiseptic and wash your hands thoroughly.

Ticks sent to the Vector-borne disease program of the Ohio Dept. of Health will be identified and tested - Call 614-752-1029 for directions.

Go to Bullseye for more information on tick-borne diseases and the Lyme Disease Association of Ohio.

Rhonna Smith, Avon

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