A new study has found the Sars virus in sweat glands and the intestine.
It suggests the disease may spread via contaminated sewage, food or handshakes as well as the respiratory system.
Pathologists from the First Military Medical University in Guangzhou, southern China, warn that if further research proves that Sars can be transmitted by these unexpected routes, the implications for public health are major.
The team devised two methods of testing for the presence of the coronavirus (Sars-CoV) that causes the disease. One was an antibody that binds specifically to the virus, and the other was amplification of tell-tale fragments of viral DNA.
Using these two markers, they tested tissue that had been taken from four people who had died of Sars, and from four 'controls', people who had died of other causes. Their study, published yesterday in a British peer-reviewed publication, the Journal of Pathology, showed the lungs of Sars victims were found to be riddled with the virus.
Up to 49 per cent of the tissue cells they viewed had been infected. Infection in the small intestine and renal system reached 25 to 49 per cent of cells, and it was the same case for the skin.
Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) is an atypical form of pneumonia that first appeared in November 2002 in Guangdong Province, China.