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






This project aims at preventing the re-emergence of SARS disease in human populations through the control of animal and human SARS-related coronavirus (CoV) infection. The first part of the project concentrates on the identification and control of the animal reservoir of SARS-like CoV.
The second part focuses on the human SARS epidemiology based on the 2003 Chinese epidemic data. Molecular epidemiology studies, comparing CoV found in animals and humans, will link the two parts of the project.

The majority of the field work will be carried out in China, the country in which the epidemic started in November 2002. Studies on the search for the animal reservoir will focus on the masked palm civet, in which sequences of CoV very similar to those of human SARS patients were found.
Other animal species will also be investigated, in case the masked palm civet turns out to be only a transient animal reservoir. Human SARS epidemiology studies will re-analyse the 2003 epidemic data from Beijing City, adding serological confirmation to all cases and family contacts.
Prospective studies in two cohorts of patients will examine the long-term excretion of the virus, and study the type and the sustainability of the immune response. Finally, hospital infection control measures taken during the epidemic in Beijing will be re-assessed, in view of the experience gained in China and elsewhere in the world.

The comprehensive approach outlined in this proposal, combining animal and human studies, aims at bringing us closer to a full understanding of the whole epidemiology of SARS-related viruses.
Based on the findings of this project, original guidelines for the prevention and control of the animal reservoir (permanent or transient) will be issued, and international guidelines for the prevention and control of SARS outbreaks among humans will be strengthened. The multidisciplinary approach used in this proposal, involving zoologists, epidemiologists, virologists, clinicians, and immunologists, will hopefully serve as a model for investigations of future outbreaks of emerging diseases of animal origin.

News : Main project findings

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