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H5N1 Not Ruled Out In Mystery Illness That Killed Four in Toronto

Recombinomics Commentary

October 2, 2005

We know from testing that it's not influenza, we know that this is not SARS, we know this is not avian influenza," said infectious disease consultant Dr. Alison McGeer.

Although the above comments were made at the 5 PM news conference, later in the same news conference both statements were qualified.

SARS was excluded because the clinical signs did not match SARS and there was "no SARS in the world".  However, papers published this week in Science and PNAS described coronaviruses closely related to SARS CoV in horseshoe bats and those sequences became available at GenBank this week (
bat SARS coronavirus HKU3-1, bat SARS coronavirus HKU3-2, bat SARS coronavirus HKU3-3 ).  In addition, the newly discovered related coronviruses NL63 and HKU-1 are  found in respiratory diseases worldwide.

Dr McGeer admitted that there was no data yet on coronavirus tests.

Similarly, when asked if influenza could be ruled out, she said no, but she expected to be able to rule out influenza when test results became available in a few hours.

Thus, the data available at the time of the statement above did not rule out a SARS, or SARS-like illness, or an influenza illness, like H5N1.

Although the test for these viral etiologies may be negative, the best way to strongly rule them out is to first get negative data for SARS and H5N1, and the get positive data for another agent.

Until those two results are in, the viral-like fevers and rapid spread raise the possibility that the respiratory disease sweeping through the nursing home in Scarborough, Canada is linked to coronaviruses or influenza viruses like H5N1.

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