While public health officials work to prevent further spread of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, researchers are looking for a treatment for the potentially deadly disease. But, health experts say it could take time to find drugs that successfully combat SARS, and possibly longer to develop a vaccine.
So far, the number of people infected by SARS, compared to the flu, has been relatively small. The World Health Organization reports there are nearly 5,000 cases around the world, including nearly 300 deaths. But no one can predict which way the viral illness is going to spread, and to whom, before an effective treatment is found.
In an interview on the ABC television program This Week, Anthony Fauci - the head of the U.S. Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases - was asked about a cure for SARS.
"One of the things you do with viruses or any other microbes is you screen already existing drugs," he said. "So, you let it grow in culture, and you determine whether drugs you already happen to have on the shelf for another reason might block it. We might get lucky in that. If we do, wonderful."
If existing drugs don't work to kill the SARS virus, Dr. Fauci said, researchers will have to develop new compounds. He said that could take a very long time.
Dr. Fauci also said it could take years to develop a SARS vaccine. Julie Gerberding is head of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia.
Dr. Gerberding, speaking on the CBS program Face the Nation, said she is optimistic a vaccine to prevent the spread of SARS will be developed.
"I think our strategy right now is, 'let's work really hard to contain this, until we have better tools like a vaccine, or a treatment," she said. "But we are at least a year away from any vaccine that would be useful in people."
Until a treatment for SARS is found, public health officials say, the best strategy is to isolate people infected with the virus, so they do not spread it to others.