In Brief

Possible Treatment for New SARS-like Virus Found

artist rendering of bacteria
Bacteria (Image credit: Dreamstime)

Two antiviral drugs show promise for treating infection with a new SARS-like virus, researchers say.

The new virus, which belongs to a family of viruses called coronaviruses, first emerged last September in Saudi Arabia, and has so far sickened 17 people, 11 of whom died. Most cases have occurred in the Middle East.

The virus causes respiratory illness with fever, cough, shortness of breath and breathing difficulties, according to the World Health Organization.

The new study found that a combination of two antiviral drugs, ribavirin and interferon-alpha 2b (already approved to treat hepatitis C), could inhibit the growth of the virus in cells in a lab dish. The doses used in the study are safe for people, but more research is needed to test whether this treatment would actually help curb symptoms in sick people, the researchers said.

Even though the effectiveness of the treatment hasn't been tested in people,  Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Insitute of Allergy and Infectius Diseases, was quoted as saying some doctors might want to use it in patients who become sick with the new coronavirus. "If I were a physician in a hospital and someone were dying, rather than do nothing, you can see if these work," Fauci told USA Today.

Rachael Rettner

Rachael is a Live Science contributor, and was a former channel editor and senior writer for Live Science between 2010 and 2022. She has a master's degree in journalism from New York University's Science, Health and Environmental Reporting Program. She also holds a B.S. in molecular biology and an M.S. in biology from the University of California, San Diego. Her work has appeared in Scienceline, The Washington Post and Scientific American.