Aired April 29, 2003 - 07:10 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: There is some good news on the SARS front. The World Health Organization says the outbreak has been contained in Hong Kong, Singapore, Vietnam and in Canada.
But the disease continues to spread throughout China. Nine more deaths are reported there this morning, pushing that country's SARS death toll to 148. Also, SARS cases in China now top 3,300.
Richard Preston, a bioterrorism expert and author, has written about anthrax and smallpox and the Ebola virus. His latest work is titled, "The Demon in the Freezer." He's also written a book called, "The Hot Zone."
Good morning to you. Good to see you here.
RICHARD PRESTON, BIOTERRORISM EXPERT: Good morning, Bill.
HEMMER: Why do you believe this is such a natural phenomenon?
PRESTON: Well, the SARS virus has Mother Nature's handwriting written all over it. It's certainly natural. It's a type of virus called the corona virus, and these viruses are among the fastest- mutating viruses that we know of in nature. So, it didn't come out of a laboratory. It came out of Mother Nature itself.
And itís part of a wider phenomenon of what we call "emerging viruses." These are new kinds of viruses that come out of -- usually out of other species, out of animals. They have a tendency to jump into the human species. And once they do, they can find a foothold in us, and then they can begin to spread and, in effect, find a new home.
HEMMER: Why do you believe, then, in the years to come we are going to encounter more cases like SARS, perhaps other viruses out there?
PRESTON: Well, SARS and many other kinds of emerging viruses -- the AIDS virus is a very good example of this type -- are the kind of biological equivalent of hurricanes. They come along once in a while, and there's not much we can do about it.
Part of the biological condition of the human species, our numbers have grown dramatically just in the last 100 years. In the year 1900, there were about one-and-a-half billion people on the planet. And today, there are six to seven billion people. And when you see a population growing in numbers like this and becoming more crowded together, we're living more and more in cities and in urban environments... HEMMER: So, you think it's strictly pegged on population and numbers?
PRESTON: I think so, and I think it's part of the population dynamic of the human population. Within about the next 10 years or so, something like 60 percent of the people on the planet are going to be living in cities. And cities are natural breeding -- you know, melting pots for these new kinds of viruses.
HEMMER: There is a piece today in "The Wall Street Journal" that suggests that SARS could be like a seasonal virus that appears perhaps now in the spring and the summertime. It may abate in the next couple of months then come back a year a later.
Do you agree with that? And if so, is this the new flu that we're seeing?
PRESTON: Well, it's very possible. That's a very interesting theory. Many viruses are seasonal. They rise and fall. And SARS is, in effect, a really nasty kind of cold that kills about 5 percent of the people who get it. And so, colds come along in the winter when people are more cooped up indoors, and it could be this case with SARS.
HEMMER: What is the chance right now for control globally?
PRESTON: Well, there are a couple of reasons to think that it can be controlled. And one is that, you know, all of this money that we've been spending on bioterrorism is actually having a payoff right now with SARS. We've got rapid tests, where we can quickly identify it in a patient. So, doctors and experts can see the virus moving in a human population, which is important.
HEMMER: If true, then, what did Vietnam do right to be given a clean bill of health first?
PRESTON: They admitted they had a problem right off the bat, and then they took very vigorous efforts to try to track and identify the cases.
The other thing that we have, I think, to hope for is a vaccine. What are the chances of a vaccine? Probably within the next year or two we can maybe have a hope of one. It will take a lot of testing, but it's doable.
HEMMER: Richard Preston, good to talk to you, as always.
PRESTON: Good to be with you.
HEMMER: Nice to see you.
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