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Deadly virus found in tears.

Scientists have discovered the deadly Sars virus in the tears of patients.

The worldwide outbreak of Sars -Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome -saw hundreds of deaths and thousands of cases of the virus appear in 2003.

The latest study, published in the British Journal of Ophthalmology, tested samples swabbed from the tear ducts of 36 patients with suspected Sars in Singapore in April 2003.

Eight of the patients subsequently turned out to have probable Sars.

A chemical analysis confirmed the presence of the Sars coronavirus in three of the patients -two elderly men and one young female health worker.

The patients who tested positive had only recently become infected -they were tested within nine days of their symptoms starting.

No evidence of the virus was found in the tears of the other five patients.

But the researchers said their symptoms had started more than 11 days earlier, suggesting that the tear duct sampling may be a sensitive test for the early stage of infection.

The team, led by Dr Seng Chee Loon from The Eye Institute in Singapore, said their study had important implications for the way doctors dealt with patients with suspected Sars.

The virus, which was first detected in China, spread quickly around the world thanks to air travel.

Health officials faced problems screening travellers arriving at airports, especially those with no obvious symptoms.

'The ability to detect and isolate the virus in the early phase of the disease may be an important diagnostic tool for future patients and tear sampling is both simple and easily repeatable,' the researchers said.

'Many healthcare workers are in close proximity to the eyes of patients and this may be a source of spread among healthcare workers and inoculating patients.'

The researchers said the virus could also be spread to other patients through the use of reusable eye equipment.

They said that as the positive cases were identified at the start of illness, the virus may only be present in tears during the early phase of the disease.
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Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Jun 21, 2004
Words:335
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