hepatitis drug may help treat SARS

A commercially available drug may help treat severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, which currently has no effective therapies or vaccines. An international team of researchers report in the March Nature Medicine that pegylated interferon-alpha, an antiviral drug commonly used to treat hepatitis C, eases the disease’s symptoms and may even help reduce its spread — in monkeys, anyway. Albert Osterhaus of the Erasmus Medical Center in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, and his colleagues treated macaques with interferon before infecting them with the SARS virus. Interferon reduced the damaging effect of the virus on the lungs, helping the animals breathe easier, and significantly reduced the amount of virus in the body. The treated monkeys’ throats exhaled fewer infectious particles, which, if the drug has the same effect in humans, might curb its transmission. Using interferon on animals already infected with SARS produced similar effects on a smaller scale. The authors write that the drug “should be considered a candidate drug for SARS therapy” and advise clinical trials.

This news brief appeared in the Discoveries column of the Boston Globe’s Health/Science section on 3/02/2004.
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