The World Health Organization (WHO) today moved to calm the increasingly competitive atmosphere that seems to be developing in the quest to identify the cause of worldwide Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) outbreak. WHO said the true cause of the disease, which has now infected 456 people and killed 17 in Asia, Europe and North America, is still uncertain.

Early announcements that a paramyxovirus had been associated with SARS in Germany and Hong Kong were followed yesterday by apparently conflicting claims from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that a coronavirus, a common cause of respiratory infections, had been detected in two patients.

"There are three working hypotheses at the moment," Julie Hall of WHO's Global Alert, Response and Operations Department — which is managing the WHO response to SARS — told The Scientist. "One is that it is a coronavirus, and that the paramyxovirus is just...

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