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The OIE hosts a world renowned SARS expert

Dr. Linda Saif, Distinguished Professor in Food Animal Health at Ohio State University, and one of the OIE's experts in coronaviruses visited the OIE headquarters in Paris and met with the Director General and technical staff to discuss the current situation of the SARS epidemic.

The OIE had called upon Dr. Saif for advice as it recognizes the new challenge facing the medical community around the world - a coronavirus with fatal consequences in humans.

Dr Saif said that the veterinary community has a long experience with coronaviruses causing severe disease in domestic animals and can therefore provide assistance in the understanding the epidemiology of the disease, development of models, pathogenicity studies, and mechanisms of prevention and control for SARS.

The veterinary research community has studied several coronaviruses with serious consequences to domestic animals and has developed animal models. Issues such as reinfection, virus shedding, crossing of the species barrier, reaction to transport stress have all been studied in animals and the outcomes of this research may help to understand the origins of the current outbreak, predict its behavior and ultimately lead to the control of SARS , said Dr. Saif.

Through its delegates in 164 Member Countries and its more than 160 Collaborating Centres and Reference Laboratories, the OIE has access to monitoring and surveillance data for animal coronaviruses, information on diagnostic techniques and vaccination trials, and the human resources to conduct surveys in domestic animals and wildlife.

Dr. Saif highlighted the importance of conducting surveillance studies in search of domestic and wild animal reservoirs. She indicated that before we can implicate animals as potential reservoirs, it will be necessary to look for such animals both within as well as outside the endemic areas. At the moment, animals testing positive for SARS-like viruses could have been the source of human infection or, just as likely, victims of infections from humans.

Coronaviruses can have an affinity for the respiratory system, such as bovine coronavirus, while others have primarily a tropism for the enteric system, such as transmissible gastroenteritis virus (TGE) of pigs. Characterization of the SARS virus will permit researchers to determine which animal model it most closely resembles. Once this is determined, predictions as to how to control the current outbreak could be made.

The OIE strongly believes that active dialogue and collaboration between the veterinary and medical communities is essential to address this new SARS challenge, and to jointly understand the origin, predict its pathogenic behavior and develop prevention and control strategies.

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