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South African scientists have developed a new approach that could potentially lead to a powerful medicine to treat the Hepatitis B virus.
Promising findings from two studies are offering the hope of a safe and effective vaccine against the most common cause of childhood diarrhoea.
The baby nursery at the RK Khan Hospital in Chatsworth has been temporarily closed after the outbreak of a killer virus which has claimed the lives of four newborn babies since the beginning of February.
The first suspected case of the deadly severe acute respiratory syndrome illness Sars has turned up in Durban. A 30-year-old Durban man is in isolation at the Crompton Hospital in Pinetown after he returned from Vietnam via Singapore on Sunday. All those who have been in contact with him have also opted to be in self-quarantine. The hospital spokesperson,Marietjie Kelly, said the patient's temperature had come down but they want to be absolutely sure that he didn't pick up the disease. She said the patient was in a stable condition and did not pose a danger to others. It is believed that the man who was on a business trip to south east Asia, was taken to hospital yesterday morning. Sars has made its way half way around the world but no case of the disease has been diagnosed in South Africa. (Source: SABC News 7 May 2003)
South Africa's National Institute for Communicable Diseases put the country on the alert for signs of the deadly SARS that has already infected 1804 and killed at least 62 by 1 April 2003. The institute said it had sent step-by-step instructions to the department and private and state medical laboratories detailing what to do should doctors suspect SARS in a patient. Doctors should be on the lookout for high temperatures exceeding 38 degrees Celcius, they should look for respiratory illness such as coughing or shortness of breath, but most importantly they should get the patient's travel and contact history. According to the guidelines, patients suspected of having SARS must be isolated and barrier-nursed with mask, gown and glove precautions. Specimens including clotted blood and nasopharyngeal swabs should be sent to the institute. The epicentre of the disease is in Asia where the majority of the deaths have occurred. Scientists fear the disease may be spread by close human contact such as that experienced inside passenger planes. Meanwhile, doctors at the Nelspruit Medi-Clinic said that a man who was admitted to the hospital with some of the symptoms of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome and who had recently travelled to Mozambique and Hong Kong appear to be suffering from malaria. (Source:SAPA, 1 April 2003) For update and more information on SARS Visit:http://www.who.int/csr/sars/en/
Hopes for a new treatment for hepatitis B have been boosted with the announcement yesterday of a R9,3m Innovation Fund research grant to researchers at the University of the Witwatersrand. Between 5% and 10% of South Africans are chronically infected with the virus, which is transmitted through blood. Most carriers do not exhibit symptoms, but about 25% of them develop potentially fatal liver cancer as a direct result of the virus. The Wits research team, led by Patrick Arbuthnot, is developing a hepatitis B therapy, which inhibits the ability of the virus to replicate in the human body. There are two licensed drug therapies available for treating hepatitis B,but they are not always effective. Interferon alpha works by boosting the patient's immune system to fight off the virus. Lamivudine blocks the machinery inside the virus that is responsible for making genetic material (DNA), and thus inhibits replication of the virus inside the body. The new therapy being developed by Arbuthnot and his team is based on ribozyme technology. Therapeutic ribozymes also inhibit viral replication, but in this case by cutting the molecules in the genetic material of the virus. He said the technology developed at Wits had been protected by a provisional patent. When it was refined the team would seek an international patent. The efficacy of the ribozyme gene therapy application developed at Wits in preventing the hepatitis B virus from replicating has been proven in cell cultures. However, Arbuthnot said work had still to be done to improve its efficacy, and determine its safety in humans. He said it would be at least two years before clinical trials were likely to begin. The World Health Organisations said about 380-million people worldwide suffer from chronic hepatitis B. Although there were slight variations in the strains of the virus found in Africa and Asia, Arbuthnot said the technology he and his team were developing would be effective worldwide. Arbuthnot praised government's preventive efforts, saying that SA was one of only a handful of African countries to immunise children against hepatitis B. (Source: Business Day, 16 July 2002)