Wooster lab joins SARS network

WOOSTER, Ohio – An Ohio State University agricultural lab is now one of three U.S. labs studying severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and the coronavirus that causes it.

The university’s Food Animal Health Research Program was invited to join the World Health Organization’s International SARS Reference and Verification Laboratory Network earlier this year.

The lab is part of the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center’s Wooster campus.

The SARS lab network will complete confirmatory diagnostic tests on behalf of the international community.

Animal research link. Professor Mo Saif said the university’s experience with animal coronaviruses may provide insight into the novel human pathogen that infected 8,422 people worldwide.

Between November 2002 and July 2003, 916 people died.

“Before SARS emerged, scientists hadn’t paid much attention to human coronaviruses, since they caused nothing more than the common cold,” Saif said.

As a result, most of the knowledge about coronaviruses in general was generated by animal coronavirologists.

The Ohio State facility is one of three U.S. labs playing a part in the network, which has 18 members.

The other two U.S. participants are the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Respiratory Virus Section and Columbia University’s Jerome L. and Dawn Green Infectious Disease Laboratory.

Expert calls Ohio home. Leading OARDC’s role in the SARS network is virologist Linda Saif.

She is an internationally recognized expert in coronaviruses and other pathogens that sicken food-producing animals and people, including rotaviruses and caliciviruses.

During the past year, Saif collaborated with CDC and WHO in SARS-related research.

She also participated in a laboratory workshop last October at WHO’s headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland.

The SARS coronavirus is suspected to have jumped from wild animals in southern China to humans.

Ohio lab’s role. The Wooster lab is recognized worldwide for the development of diagnostic tests and vaccines for several animal viruses.

Of special interest to scientists working with SARS is the connection between the bovine and the SARS coronaviruses.

Last year, Linda Saif reported that the pneumonia associated with BCV is similar to the pneumonia experienced by some SARS patients.

Moreover, she said some people who caught SARS developed gastroenteritis in addition to respiratory disease, which is case with BCV-infected cattle stressed by transport to feedlots – a condition called shipping fever disease.

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