A Canadian lab has become the first to map out the coronavirus believed to be
responsible for SARS. The news comes on the same day that the SARS death toll
rose to 13 in Ontario.
The Michael Smith Genome Sciences Centre, part of the BC Cancer Agency, made
the news public Saturday. Dr. Marco Marra said the sequencing data would be
posted online so that researchers around the world could use the data.
Hour earlier, officials announced that Ontario's death toll from SARS had jumped to 13. Dr. Colin D'Cunha, commissioner of public health, said three more names were added to the list on Saturday.
In a joint statement, D'Cunha and Dr. James Young said that all three patients had direct contact with the original cluster of cases. The statement also noted that all three had previous underlying medical conditions.
"Efforts to respond to SARS and contain the disease continue around the clock. People who are in home isolation should continue to follow the directions of their local health units," Young, commissioner of public safety, said.
An advisory board of scientists issued a paper Friday saying they are optimistic that the disease will be controlled in Ontario, but suggest repeated reintroduction of the disease -- mostly from travellers -- could eventually overwhelm hospitals, and public health authorities.
On Friday afternoon, Young said the Toronto SARS outbreak appeared to be coming under control -- despite the appearance of new cases, which he said were not unexpected.
Even the number of probable and suspected cases in the province rose 217 by Friday, Young said it was a positive sign that there are no new cases among unprotected health care workers.
Local authorities, meanwhile, continue to urge the public to take precautionary measure and to remain in confinement for the full 10 days if they are quarantined.
Still, one in five cases of SARS in Canada develops in travellers. Many of those cases have been identified in the last week even though air passengers arriving from Asia are being screened.
A document obtained by CTV outlines possible scenarios of what lies ahead, if new cases of SARS continue to be introduced by infected people breaking quarantine, or through travel from other countries.
The advisory board's report has prompted Ontario officials to set up a meeting with their federal counterparts, to discuss new travel restrictions.
Travel a global issue
With the disease now reportedly out of control in China, and turning up in Indonesia, India and the Philippines, doctors say that getting rid of SARS in Canada now gives us a period of calm before the storm.
Controlling the problem in Toronto and controlling the influx of new cases, says Dr. Don Low, chief of microbiology at Mt. Sinai Hospital, "will buy us time to come up with better vaccines better recognition -- knowing who is at risk and who isn't ."
The picture could change if scientists develop a rapid diagnostic test that could differentiate SARS from other respiratory conditions, and a proven treatment or a vaccine is discovered.
But those kind of developments will take time. Meanwhile, air travellers continue to circle the globe, bringing new cases of SARS with them.
Already, SARS has spread to 20 countries.
Some limited restrictions are already in place. On Friday, Hong Kong authorities banned quarantined residents from leaving the city, as the SARS virus turned up in two more Asian nations. Both cases, in Indonesia and the Philippines, involved foreigners who had recently been to Hong Kong.
In Canada, measures such as quarantining more people once they come off international flights will be discussed at next week's meeting in Ottawa, between federal and Ontario health authorities.
Worldwide, since first emerging out of China late last year, SARS has claimed at least 111 lives and sickened more than 2,700 people. Symptoms of SARS include fever, shortness of breath, coughing, chills and body aches.