Prevention of future SARS epidemics through the control of animal and human infection





In May 2003, at the peak of the SARS epidemic in Beijing, the Chinese Ministry of Science and Technology invited four scientists from Pasteur Institute to Beijing to initiate collaborative research programs on SARS. Arnaud Fontanet (epidemiologist), Laurence Baril (epidemiologist), Jean-Claude Manuguerra (virologist) and Ralf Altmeyer (virologist) met during this mission with the Minister of Science and Technology and with the Vice-Minister of Health. They were also introduced to a group of prominent Chinese scientists involved in SARS research, covering various fields of expertise such as epidemiology (HE Xiong and CAO Wuchun), virology (DENG Hong-Kui, HU Zhihong and DONG Xiaoping), molecular biology (ZHAO Guoping), immunology and clinical research (LI Taisheng). From there, three additional missions took place to China between June, August 2003 and March 2004, allowing the setting up of the research programme presented here.

It became very clear that the search for an animal reservoir would be crucial to any future plan of disease control or elimination. Therefore, François Moutou (veterinary), member of EC (June 2003) and WHO, FAO, OIE, Chinese Government joint mission (August 2003) missions on SARS animal reservoir in China, suggested to enlarge the collaboration to colleagues in France, Italy and Spain with expertise in that area: Géraldine Véron (zoology / phylogeny), from the Museum National d’Histoire Naturelle in Paris; Ettore Randi (zoologist / phylogeny), from the Instituto Nazionale per la Fauna Selvatica in Ozzano Emilia; Francisco Palomares (zoology / ecology), from the CSIC in Sevilla; and Jose M Sanchez Vizcaino (animal viro-immunologist), from the Universidad Complutense in Madrid. In China, contacts with the Institute of Zoology in Beijing were revitalised through ZHANG Shuyi (zoologist formerly trained at Paris XIII University and SARS Research Coordinator for the Chinese Academy of Sciences) and WEI Fuwen (collaborator of the French Museum National d’Histoire Naturelle).

Additional collaborators were brought in for their specific expertise: François Freymuth (virology), from the UPRES in Caen (coronavirus expert and member, with JC Manuguerra, of the reference laboratory network on respiratory diseases in France); Laurent Abel (genetic epidemiology) from INSERM in Paris (collaborator of Arnaud Fontanet on studies of genetic susceptibility to HCV infection in Egypt); and Giuseppe Ippolito (Istituto Nazionale per le Malattie Infettive), specialist in nosocomial infections and hospitalisation management of highly contagious cases in Rome.

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