Virus that turned up in Toronto nurses was SARS-linked

Image copyright SARS Scientists are baffled after the mystery illness which turned up in a small group of SARS-afflicted people in Toronto last year was traced to the Aromatherapy Associates of Canada It’s the…

Virus that turned up in Toronto nurses was SARS-linked

Image copyright SARS

Scientists are baffled after the mystery illness which turned up in a small group of SARS-afflicted people in Toronto last year was traced to the Aromatherapy Associates of Canada

It’s the first time SARS-infected individuals have shown up elsewhere outside its incubation period, for the affected people with Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS).

There was concern that people in contact with its victims could be at risk.

But a study in Nature, which linked the activity of the Aromatherapy Associates’s office in Toronto with the symptoms reported by the nurses, has now shed light on the pathogen.

The Aromatherapy Associates – one of several UK-based complementary therapy products distributors – “invited” the 46 affected nurses to come in for their own tests when they raised concerns about the effects of a small proportion of non-medicated products used for massage and foot breathing.

Researchers in Toronto then monitored the group’s activity with various products, and three at the highest level were singled out as displaying intense, atypical respiratory activity.

Published in the journal Nature, the research highlights two potential sources of infection: cardiac perfusion methods (which can include intravenous fluid delivery) and touch and scalding salts in a massage room spray.

Dr Katy Taylor of the University of Toronto Health Sciences told BBC News: “These people likely had abnormal perfusion procedures or cardiovascular events.

“It’s possible that inhaling the spray or other showers might have induced bacterial pathogens that could have had flu-like symptoms, causing the respiratory problems.”

The report said: “Aromatherapy Associates staff likely fostered SARS-like conditions.

“It is likely that product samples discovered in the former headquarters building of Aromatherapy Associates Canada were likely all contaminated.

“Infected staff and patients should not have been exposed to Aromatherapy Associates products, even with protection. These infections are potentially preventable.”

Aromatherapy Associates could not be reached for comment but published a statement in Nature.

“We take patient safety seriously and have been removing any trace of our product from our old office space as soon as our report was released,” it said.

Dr Taylor told BBC News that the evidence provided “overwhelming proof” that employees used the facility for massage and foot breathing purposes – like many other health practitioners worldwide.

Image copyright SARS Image caption Pictures from inside the room had been seized as part of a police investigation

She said the exposure period was believed to be May through September 2015 – so that the report had limited relevance to SARS after 20 May 2016, and perhaps an early glimpse of the virus’s incubation period.

Since 2013, there has been a gradual decline in the global incidence of MERS – which is predominantly an airborne virus. But the continued marginality of the infection was an international concern because of cases in Saudi Arabia, the centre of the outbreak.

Almost a year later, on 26 August 2016, there was the first death from the disease in Canada.

Later investigations linked it to illnesses in a large number of residents at a Toronto hospital.

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