An enzyme test that detects lung damage could help determine which patients are more likely to die from SARS, which has already killed 103 people worldwide. Dr. Joseph Sung of Hong Kong’s Prince of Wales Hospital is trying to figure out why some patients die from SARS, while most survive. This is important to know, since health officials have now admitted the disease is so widespread that it can’t be contained in Asia. With so much world travel, this means it’s here to stay in the rest of the world, as well.

Although over 100 patients have died, almost 3,000 have been infected. The older the patient is, the more likely they are to die from SARS, according to Sung. Those who died also had high levels of an enzyme linked to lung damage. Also, patients who died had high levels of immune cells called neutrophils, which the body releases to fight invaders such as bacteria and viruses. Although all five patients who died in Sung’s study had some other illness such as congestive heart failure, liver cirrhosis or hepatitis, being ill with something besides SARS doesn’t necessarily put patients at extra risk of dying.

Dr. Jim Hughes, of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, says SARS cannot now be eradicated in the Far East, and it?s also possible it will become a permanent feature of life in North America. He says, “I think we have to assume that the virus is in Asia to stay. In terms of its introduction into North America, whether it is here to stay I think remains to be seen but I think we should assume that it may well be.”

This might not be the case if China hadn’t covered up it’s SARS epidemic. A Chinese military doctor has accused his superiors of failing to disclose SARS cases at his hospital, and friends of a U.S. citizen who died from SARS say he was wheeled, already dead, into an ambulance and sent from Beijing to Hong Kong because China’s authorities didn’t want to report that another foreigner had died of the virus there.

Someday, we’ll all find a place for ourselves Otherwhere.

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