Experts say the bug responsible for the deadly form of pneumonia known as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) that’s spreading worldwide is a virus from the paramyxoviridae family, which is responsible for mumps and measles.

The worst affected countries are Hong Kong, with 111 cases, Vietnam, with 54 cases, and Singapore, with 23 cases. There are suspected cases in Israel, Australia, Germany, the U.S. and the U.K., as well as in Switzerland, France, Slovenia, Taiwan, Thailand, China and the Philippines. Since it’s spreading so widely, it’s probably being passed on by air travelers. However, researchers think close, prolonged contact is necessary to catch it, rather than just proximity (such as sitting next to an infected person on a plane).

Renown virologist John Oxford says a similar virus was discovered in Holland last year. “It is rather slow-moving, rather restricted to families and hospitals, not a rip-roaring affair, but still very nasty,” he says. “There are no anti-viral drugs against this family of viruses, and there are no vaccines available?But it is not fantastically infectious, so I wouldn’t expect there to be a massive outbreak in other parts of the world.”

Dr. David Heymann, WHO’s communicable diseases chief, says, “It isn’t contagious at the level of many other infectious diseases. A normal influenza would be very contagious to people sitting in the same room.” The disease originated in China, but is now under control there. Heymann says, “The big concern in this area of the world is that one day another influenza virus could hop the barrier between animals and humans. In the 20th century three viruses crossed, and the last two, in the ’50s and ’60s, occurred in the southern China area.”

There’s a lot about disease that doctors don’t tell you. To see a world map showing the spread of the mystery disease, click here and scroll down.

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