Progress on SARS Epidemiological Studies
The Chinese National S&T Panel on SARS Prevention and Treatment has recently announced its major accomplishments achieved so far in its SARS epidemiological studies. Those accomplishments follow:
* Chinese scientists have achieved an understanding of the external life process of SARS viruses. This provides scientific evidence for comprehensive SARS prevention. The research results have shown that SARS viruses are able to keep their vitality for an extended period of time in regular wastes discharged by the human body such as sputum, stools and urine, and blood. In temperatures of 24℃, SARS viruses are able to survive for about 5 days in sputum or stools, 10 days in urine, and 15 days in blood. Under normal indoor conditions, SARS viruses may survive for 3 days on the surfaces of filter paper, cotton cloth, wooden boards, soil, metal, plastics, and glass.
* Evaluations have been made on the major disinfectants currently applied against SARS in this nation. The testing results have shown that chlorine-based disinfectants and peroxyacetic acid in the concentrations recommended by the Chinese Ministry of Public Health can completely kill the SARS viruses in human stools and urine within several minutes. Ultraviolet rays may, within a range of 80-90 cm, and with intensity larger than 90 μw/cm2, kill external SARS viruses within 30 minutes. SARS viruses have been proven sensitive to temperature. They show a remarkable declining survival rate with an ascending temperature. Under a serum free culture condition, the viruses may survive for 4 days at 37℃, but only for 90 minutes at 56℃ and 30 minutes at 75℃.
* The research results also show that the recovered SARS patients have no further ability to infect, as they discharge no more toxins. It has been initially confirmed that people who have close contact with SARS patients are very low in hidden infections and SARS patients in the latent period also have very limited ability to infect.
China has established the national SARS control and warning geographic information system, through which concerned authorities may spatially and temporally classify, summarize, and conduct statistical analysis of confirmed patients, suspected SARS patients, and those who have close contact with these two types of patients according to the given indicators and space locations. The results are then marked on maps.
China has, by means of the SIR Model, established short and medium range SARS analysis and prediction models to predict the short and medium range SARS development tendencies in the nation. The priority is to make one-week predictions for the new SARS patients in Beijing with the help of the latest data and information on SARS development as published by the Ministry of Public Health.
Combined Treatment Yields Better Results
Since the SARS viruses began to widely spread in the nation, the Chinese Ministry of Science and Technology has initiated a major clinical study for treating the SARS disease with combined traditional and western medicines. Through the concerted efforts of more than 400 medical researchers, the study has achieved good progress in the clinical treatment of SARS patients.
As of June 6, 2003, the study had collected 1.5 million items of data on 562 SARS patients, about 2000 chest images and 500 digital tongue pictures. The study team also distributed more than 100 questionnaires among the doctors who were involved in the clinical treatment of SARS patients, soliciting their comments on the typical SARS symptoms and their treatment experience. In addition, the team analyzed and evaluated the data of 222 SARS cases.
The research results have shown that treating SARS patients with combined traditional and western medicines apparently has more sustained and stable effects on reducing the fever and better results in alleviating the major clinical symptoms such as labored and short breath, dry cough, and fatigue. The combined method also functions well in improving the patients' oxygen deprivation symptoms and in maintaining the performance of their organs. When the method was applied in treating advanced cases, it was found that the approach might reduce the in-take volume of hormones and thus avoid side effects.
At the same time, the study of the SARS symptoms for traditional medical diagnosis and dialectic treatment has also seen progress. While analyzing the clinical data, the study team collected and consolidated the clinical reports and experiences provided by the doctors who were treating SARS patients. From them the SARS symptoms have been summarized and analyzed for traditional medical diagnosis and dialectic treatment. Preliminary research results indicate that this disease falls into the category of “plague” using traditional Chinese medical theory. The Beijing area is characterized with diagnostic symptoms of heavy fever and toxicity supported by “damp and evil air”. As a result, the corresponding clinical treatment will be applied with traditional drugs to expel fever, toxicity, dampness, and congestion and to aid in lung recovery. To cope with the fast changing toxicity of the SARS viruses, the dialectic clinical treatment will be applied in order to offset the variations seen in SARS patients at different phases of the disease.
The conditional results of the study have fully demonstrated the advantages and uniqueness of the combined treatment approach as well as showing proven treatment effects. These will become a stimulus to further improve the treatment effects of the traditional Chinese medicine, to deepen the theoretical study of traditional Chinese medical science, and to enhance the capacity to fight against major epidemic disasters.
SARS Spreads with Weather Conditions
Through studies, researchers of the National Climate Center attached to the Chinese Meteorological Administration have recently concluded that the spread of the SARS viruses is associated with weather conditions.
Researchers believe that some weather elements, such as maximum air temperature, daily temperature variations, and related humidity, are closely linked to the spread of the SARS viruses. Research results have shown that desirable conditions for the spread and growth of SARS viruses have usually found expression in the following settings: maximum air temperatures within 9 or 10 days before the breakout of viruses are relatively low at 26℃ or under with reduced daily temperature variations but increased relative humidity. On the contrary, weather conditions running counter to the above-mentioned setting are usually not desirable for the spread and growth of the viruses. The data on which the conclusion was based were primarily collected from the Beijing area. Researchers are now collecting more data from extended areas for further study.
Meteorologists suggest that people should not visit hospitals, shopping centers or places drawing large crowds on cloudy or rainy days. In addition, people should keep their residences, hospitals, shopping centers, offices, and schools well ventilated. The rise of relative humidity will extend the survival of SARS viruses or even help them spread to some extent, though high temperatures in summer are not desirable for the spread and growth of SARS viruses.
With this information, meteorologists ask people to remain alert against the spread of the SARS viruses, even during the summer, and keep their environment well ventilated by not allowing the temperature of their air conditioned environment to fall below 26℃.
China-US Joint SARS Study
At the invitation of Professor Ian Lipkin, a renowned US virologist and Director of the Immune Pathogen and Communication Diseases Center, Mailman School of Public Health, Colombia University, Professor Guo Zijian, researcher of the Chinese Xiehe Hospital and Professor Chen Zhongbin, associate researcher of the Chinese Military Academy of Medical Sciences, left Beijing on May 28, 2003 for a two-week collaborative SARS study in the US. The collaborative study will be conducted in the lab chaired by Professor Ian Lipkin.
Focus will be on early diagnosing techniques and testing approaches. Their results will become useful tools to assist China in the fight against SARS viruses.
Professor Ian Lipkin visited Beijing in early May this year at the invitation of Xu Guanhua, Chinese Minister of Science and Technology. He shared his experience and techniques on pathogen separation, sequencing bioinformatics and PCR testing techniques with his Chinese counterparts and discussed relevant cooperation initiatives and plans. The visit of Chinese researchers is one of the concrete cooperative initiatives agreed upon between the two parties.
It is reported that with the arrangement of Professor Ian Lipkin, the two Chinese researchers will also visit other relevant research institutions in the US and discuss applicable cooperative plans. All of these will create a base for future collaborative SARS studies between the two nations.
Visit of French SARS Experts to China
Under the auspices of the Chinese Ministry of Science and Technology, French experts of the China-France SARS Prevention and Control Panel recently paid a visit to the Institute of Epidemiology attached to the Chinese Military Academy of Medical Sciences. They visited the Institute labs working with SARS virus separation, fast SARS testing techniques, and medical prevention garments and facilities. In addition, experts from both countries discussed issues of common concern. French experts also visited the Beijing based China-Japan Friendship Hospital to view the clinical treatment of SARS patients and exchange views with the hospital's Chinese doctor.
The trip was one of the initiatives proposed by Xu Guanhua, Chinese Minister of Science and Technology, in his letter addressed to the French Minister of Education and Research on May 7th. All of the French experts come from Le Laboratoire de Pasteur, an internationally renowned research body in the field of vaccination and epidemiological studies.
Yunnan Herbal Medicine against SARS
The National Engineering and Technology Research Center for the Traditional Chinese Medicine Modernization and Kunming Institute of Botany, a part of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, are currently working on certain drugs to suppress the SARS viruses.
Researchers at the Kunming Institute of Botany believe that the SARS virus is a new epidemic variety that is able to cause lethal damage to the human lung and in that context the key to the treatment of the disease lies in blockading the fiber process of the victim's lungs, thereby bringing the lungs' functions back to their normal state as soon as possible. In collaboration with the No. 1 Hospital, attached to the Kunming Academy of Medical Sciences, researchers have developed a Chinese traditional medicine compound named “Luoguodi” made up of six unique medical herbs found in Yunnan Province.
The National Engineering and Technology Research Center for Traditional Chinese Medicine Modernization showed great interest in the new traditional prescription and inked a technical cooperation agreement with the Institute involving joint development of SARS drugs for both treatment and recovery under the quality control standards for National Grade Two New Drugs (Traditional Chinese Medicine Preparation) dedicated to traditional medicines.
More Progress on SARS Studies
It is reported that the working panel on SARS research and control, established by the Institute of Basic Medical Sciences, Peking University, has achieved major progress on a number of SARS studies. Of them, the study of the SARS pathological anatomy, specimen collection and pathological mechanism has been listed through bidding by the Chinese Ministry of Science and Technology as a priority SARS research project. By taking advantage of the available clinical SARS cases the project will, for the first time in the world, work on SARS pathological anatomy on a systematic basis. The studies include SARS pathology, SARS pathogenics, SARS pathogenesis mechanisms, and immunology. A standardized SARS specimen bank and database will also be established.
Currently, the project involving the construction of China's online campus SARS study center, initiated by the Chinese Ministry of Education, has also been contracted to the Institute. The new online SARS study center will provide information on SARS studies, clinical SARS prevention and treatment, SARS related research and cooperation activities, biological security measures, SARS study management, and online SARS laboratories. The website will become a major hub to disseminate information on academic and clinical SARS studies being accomplished by universities in the nation.
Human SARS Genetic Engineering Antibodies Obtained
Funded by a special SARS project sponsored by the Chinese Ministry of Science and Technology under the National 863 Program, the Institute of Viral Diseases Prevention and Control, part of the China Diseases Control Center, has for the first time in the world obtained the genetic engineering antibodies of human SARS viruses.
It is reported that researchers initially collected lymphocytes from the blood of those SARS patients who were in their convalescent period. They then created the anti-SARS viruses gene bank by adopting the technique of increasing the number of the antibody genes. Finally, researchers used the bacteriophage surface presentation technique to screen out the genetic engineering monocloning antibodies of the SARS viruses from the gene bank on the basis of cellular-cultured SARS virus granules and genetically restructured SARS virus antigen. These antibodies have demonstrated their apparent capacity for grouping with SARS viruses, and some of them have been confirmed as striking at the surface protein or core protein of the SARS viruses. Researchers are currently working day and night to evaluate the capacity of these antibodies to resist the SARS virus.
SARS Testing Technique for Food Sources
On May 27, 2003, the “Fast SARS Genetic Testing Technique for Food Sources,” developed by the China Agricultural University, passed the S&T evaluation check organized by the Chinese Ministry of Education. By taking advantage of the nest polymerase chain reaction, the new technique is able to work on fast, accurate, and highly sensitive genetic testing of SARS viruses embedded in food. In addition, the new technique is also able to reduce the possible risks in operation by avoiding the process of virus separation and collection.
Experts who paneled the evaluation check believe that the new technique has broad application possibilities. It may be used to quickly test SARS genes in food sources and block the spread of SARS viruses from the same sources. At the same time it can provide the technical means for China's food import & export quarantine examination.
RMB 500 Million Fights against SARS
China Bioproducts Corporation has recently decided to make an investment of RMB 500 million in its major S&T research activities involving bio-safe labs and the construction of bio-product manufacturing lines for SARS vaccines, flu vaccines, genetically reconstructed interferon, and blood products. So far a start-up fund of RMB 50 million for the phase I project has been committed to the pre-construction phase.
Before this development, the corporation had been contracted to work with a number of national research projects such as “human-based specific immunity proteins against the SARS virus”, “animal-based anti-SARS virus serum” and SARS vaccination. The corporation had also begun its own S&T research initiatives on SARS prevention and treatment by investing RMB 10 million in developing diagnostic agents, anti-SARS vaccines, specific immunity blood, anti-SARS serums, and protein enzymes.
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