New SARS virus linked to bats

Updated 23 November 2012
0

New SARS virus linked to bats

PARIS: A novel strain of the deadly SARS virus that sparked a health scare this year is closely related to a virus found in Asian bats, according to a study published on Tuesday.
Scientists in the Netherlands said they had sequenced the genetic code of a viral sample taken from a 60-year-old man whose death in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, in June triggered fears that Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) was returning in a new guise.
The new strain, called HCoV-EMC/2012, is part of a viral family called coronavirus, but in a specific category called betacoronavirus.
Its closest known cousins are a strain found in lesser bamboo bats (Tylonycteris pachypus) and another found in Japanese house bats, Pipistrellus abramus.
“The virus is most closely related to viruses in bats in Asia, and there are no human viruses closely related to it,” said Ron Fouchier of the prestigious Erasmus Medical Center in Rotterdam.
“Therefore we speculate that it comes from an animal source,” he said, noting that Pipistrellus bats are present in Saudi Arabia and neighboring countries.
An epidemic of SARS erupted in China in 2002, eventually claiming around 800 deaths in some 30 countries.
Bats were linked with a novel strain of SARS found in 2005. Hong Kong researchers found a natural “reservoir” of it in Chinese horseshoe bats.
Two other men have also fallen sick in the latest SARS episode.
One is a Qatari man who had been in Saudi Arabia and is being treated at a hospital in London.
There is 99.6-99.7 percent similarity between his strain and the virus sequenced in the Netherlands, said Fouchier in a press release.
“They are the same species,” he said, adding that the difference was sufficient to suggest that the men had been infected by different sources.
The other is a Saudi man whose case was announced earlier this month by the Saudi health ministry, which on November 4 described him as cured.
The genomic sequence of that virus is not yet available, Fouchier said.
The WHO said that what set the new virus apart from SARS was that it causes rapid kidney failure.
Fears rose last month over the potential spread of the virus during the Haj pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia. But the kingdom’s health ministry repeatedly reassured pilgrims that no epidemic outbreaks had been registered.
The new paper appears in mBio, an online journal of the American Society for Microbiology.


Worth the sting: Cuba’s scorpion pain remedy

Farmer Pepe Casanas poses with a scorpion in Los Palacios, Cuba, December 5, 2018. Picture taken December 5, 2018. (REUTERS)
Updated 16 December 2018
0

Worth the sting: Cuba’s scorpion pain remedy

  • In Cuba, where tens of thousands of patients have been treated with Vidatox, each vial costs under a dollar
  • The scorpions are caught in the wild as Labiofam workers believe their venom — which is not dangerous — is not as potent when raised in captivity

HAVANA: Once a month for the last decade, Pepe Casanas, a 78-year-old Cuban farmer, has hunted down a scorpion to sting himself with, vowing that the venom wards off his rheumatism pains.
His natural remedy is no longer seen as very unusual here.
Researchers in Cuba have found that the venom of the blue scorpion, whose scientific name is Rhopalurus junceus, endemic to the Caribbean island, appears to have anti-inflammatory and pain relief properties, and may be able to delay tumor growth in some cancer patients.
While some oncologists abroad say more research is needed to be able to properly back up such a claim, Cuban pharmaceutical firm Labiofam has been using scorpion venom since 2011 to manufacture the homeopathic medicine Vidatox.
The remedy has proven popular.
Labiofam Business Director Carlos Alberto Delgado told Reuters sales were climbing 10 percent annually. Vidatox already sells in around 15 countries worldwide and is currently in talks with China to sell the remedy there.
In Cuba, where tens of thousands of patients have been treated with Vidatox, each vial costs under a dollar. On the black market abroad it can cost hundred times that — retailers on Amazon.com are seen selling them for up to $140.
“I put the scorpion where I feel pain,” Casanas said while demonstrating his homemade pain relief with a scorpion that he found under a pile of debris on the patch of land he cultivates in Cuba’s western province of Pinar del Rio.
After squeezing it long enough, it stung him and he winced.
“It hurts for a while, but then it calms and goes and I don’t have any more pain,” he said.
Casanas, a leathery-skinned former tobacco farmer who now primarily grows beans for his own consumption, said he sometimes keeps a scorpion under his straw hat like a lucky charm.
It likes the shade and humidity, he says, so just curls up and sleeps.

FROM FARM TO LAB
In a Labiofam laboratory in the southern Cuban city of Cienfuegos, workers dressed in scrubs and hairnets tend to nearly 6,000 scorpions housed in plastic containers lined up on rows of metal racks.
Every few days they feed and water the arachnids that sit on a bed of small stones. Once a month, they apply an 18V electrical jolt to their tails using a handcrafted machine in order to trigger the release of a few drops of venom.
The venom is then diluted with distilled water and shaken vigorously, which homeopathic practitioners believe activates its “vital energy.”
The scorpions are caught in the wild as Labiofam workers believe their venom — which is not dangerous — is not as potent when raised in captivity.
After two years of exploitation in the “escorpionario,” they are released back into the wild.
Dr. Fabio Linares, the head of Labiofam’s homeopathic medicine laboratory who developed the medicine, said Vidatox stimulates the body’s natural defense mechanisms.
“After four to five years (of taking it), the doctor whose care I was in told me that my cancer hadn’t advanced,” said Cuban patient Jose Manuel Alvarez Acosta, who was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2008.
Still, Labiofam recommends Vidatox as a supplemental treatment and says it should not replace conventional ones.