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HK doctors identify killer pneumonia virus

Hong Kong, March 19 (Reuters): Doctors in Hong Kong have identified the family of a deadly pneumonia virus that has killed 14 and put several hundred people in intensive care, even as the disease appeared to jump to China’s capital today.

Hong Kong health minister Yeoh Eng-kiong said that Germany and Taiwan had found patients with a virus similar to Hong Kong’s, another clue to solving the outbreak over which the World Health Organisation (WHO) issued its first global health warning in 10 years.

Three more people died today in Hong Kong and one in Vietnam with symptoms linked to severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS). Beijing People’s Hospital reported two people down with an atypical pneumonia of a similar kind to SARS, and a hospital worker at a Beijing military hospital reported two dead from pneumonia, but could not say if it was the killer virus.

Those affected first show flu-like symptoms but within days could be on a life-support respirator. “We don’t expect a high mortality rate,” said Yeoh. Two people have been discharged in Hong Kong.

Some medical experts said knowing the virus family would make the disease easier to diagnose and opened the way for a vaccine to be developed, but stressed more work had to be done. Microbiology Prof. John Tam, part of the Hong Kong team that made the discovery, said: “From the shape of the virus, it belongs to the paramyxoviridae family.”

Though symptoms appear similar, this virus does not belong to the influenza group of viruses, said Lo Wing-lok, an infectious disease expert. Laboratories around the world have been working to identify the virus strain. “Severe acute respiratory syndrome is such a dramatic example of the importance of global surveillance and response capacity'” Dr James Hughes at the US Centre for Disease Control said.

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