The Centers for Disease Control has added SARS to the list of select agents in the United States, a move designed to try to ensure the virus stays within the confines of highly regulated laboratories.
The addition, which the CDC first proposed over two years ago, was given legal status this week when the revised select agent list was published in the U.S. Federal Registry.
The timing of the move is both ironic and co-incidental.
SARS has faded from view since its frightening outbreak was contained mid-way through 2003. Before the virus was brought under control, however, 32 countries reported a total of 8,422 cases and 916 deaths, according to the World Health Organization.
But there has been a resurgence of SARS talk in the past 10 days or so triggered by the World Health Organization's announcement that a newly discovered coronavirus has killed a Saudi Arabian man and severely sickened a man from Qatar. The Qatari remains in critical condition in a British hospital.
SARS is a member of the coronavirus family.
"Should SARS CoV" — coronavirus — "be intentionally or accidentally introduced into the population of the United States, as evidenced by the 2002-2003 multi-national outbreaks, the consequences could be significant," CDC spokesperson Jason McDonald explained in an emailed response to questions about the motivation for the move.
Adding the SARS virus to this list means only U.S. laboratories registered with the Federal Select Agent Program can work on the virus.
Laboratories that aren't registered with the program but which have samples of the SARS virus or SARS genetic material must either apply for status with the program, transfer that material to a registered laboratory or provide the program with proof that they have destroyed the material.