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Genes may increase risk of SARS

Scientists in Hong Kong have discovered people with a certain pattern of genes have a much higher risk of getting SARS, a finding that could help diagnose and prevent the spread of the deadly disease.
/ Source: Reuters

Scientists in Hong Kong have discovered people with a certain pattern of genes have a much higher risk of getting SARS, a finding that could help diagnose and prevent the spread of the deadly disease.

A study of SARS patients in Hong Kong showed individuals with a pattern known as HLA-B+0703 were four times as likely to contract the respiratory disease, said Paul Chan, an associate professor in microbiology at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

Those with a pattern labelled HLA-DRBI+0301 had a much lower risk, indicating genetic make-up may play a key role in determining if some people are more susceptible to the virus than others.

“Our findings from this study will help us more accurately diagnose the disease and design effective prevention programs,” Chan said on Thursday.

“For example, we could test an unproven vaccine or prevention method on the high-risk group. Hospitals may also consider sending only low-risk health workers to take care of SARS patients,” he said.

The Hong Kong researchers examined the blood samples of 90 SARS patients and studied the patterns of their human leucocyte antigen (HLA) genes, which influence the activity of cells that are responsible for the immune system’s response during infections.

The results were then compared with samples from people who did not have Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome.

Less contagious strain
More than 1,700 people in Hong Kong contracted SARS last year after it spread from southern China and nearly 300 of them died. Worldwide, more than 8,000 people were infected and more than 800 died.

China recently announced its first confirmed SARS case in months and two suspected SARS cases in the southern city of Guangzhou. The government is still awaiting definitive test results on the suspected cases.

Another Hong Kong scientist said on Wednesday it was a new variety of the SARS virus that had emerged in China and it appeared to be less contagious than the strain last year.

Both are believed to be from the same family of coronaviruses, which also cause the common cold.