SARS Virus Traced back to Wild Animals in China

SARS Virus Traced back to Wild Animals in China
Chinese scientists have traced the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) virus back to a similar virus found in the civet cat and the raccoon dog, both animals found in the wild in China and elsewhere.

Scientists have detected four isolates of a SARS-like coronavirus through a PT-PCR (reverse-transcription polymerase chain reaction) diagnostic test -- which allows detection of the distinctive genetic information for SARS -- from six Himalayan palm civets and a raccoon they took as samples from a market in Shenzhen in South China's Guangdong Province on May 8.

Guan Yi, a doctor at the University of Hong Kong's Department of Microbiology, said: "We have charted a complete genetic map of the SARS-like coronavirus detected in the Himalayan palm civet, which shares 99.8 percent of the genetic code of the human SARS coronavirus.''

According to the joint research by the University of Hong Kong and Shenzhen Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, there are only a minimal 80 differences in the 29,780 or so nuleotide and amino-acid substitutions between the coronavirus in humans and that in Himalayan palm civets, which are catlike mammals.

Yuen Kwok-yung, head of microbiology at the university, said animals kept for food should be raised, slaughtered and sold with careful monitoring to prevent more outbreaks of SARS in people.

However, officials with the National Headquarters for SARS Prevention and Control said earlier on Friday that they had not heard of the research results and declined to comment.

The WHO announced in the Swiss city of Geneva that it had removed its travel warning for Hong Kong and Guangdong Province beginning on Friday this week, according to the Chinese Ministry of Health.

The WHO said it took the decision because the SARS situation in these areas had improved significantly.

On Thursday, the WHO proposed establishing a worldwide system for disease surveillance and response to fight SARS, including building epidemiology and public health laboratory facilities in China and the surrounding regions.

The study by the University of Hong Kong linking civet cats to the coronavirus that causes SARS was described on Friday as a "significant breakthrough'' by the World Health Organization.

"If these findings are true, then this is a significant breakthrough,'' Peter Cordingley, spokesman for the Manila-based WHO Western Pacific regional office, was quoted as saying in the Philippine Star online edition.

People's Daily Online ---