WHO Hails Finding of SARS Virus' Links with Civet Cats

SARS Virus Traced back to Wild Animals in China
Experts from the World Health Organization (WHO) welcomed the finding announced by Hong Kong scientists of possible cause of SARS virus from civet cats as "important," according to news reaching here from the organization Saturday.

WHO said the new finding would help direct future research into the virus. Scientists have been researching on the possible links between wild animals and the killer virus since the disease broke out.

Francois Meslin, a WHO expert on diseases acquired from animals, told reporters the findings are "clearly quite exciting." However, he also noted it is still too early to draw final conclusions on those findings.

Meslin said it still cannot rule out the possibility the animals acquired the virus from humans, or that the virus jumped to humans from another animal altogether.

Hours after WHO lifted the travel advisory against Hong Kong on Friday, scientists from the University of Hong Kong announced they had successfully isolated a type of coronavirus that causes SARS and it came from civet cats.

Professor Yuen Kwok Yung, head of microbiology at the University of Hong Kong, said they believe the SARS virus jumped straight from civet cats to people.

However, He also acknowledged they could not rule out the possibility other animals were involved in the transmission chain.

Yuen's team made the research in collaboration with the Center for Disease Control and Prevention of Shenzhen.

They tested a large number of animals in south China's Guangdong province, including civet cats, wild rabbits and barking deer, and found coronavirus in four masked palm civets.

Civets, belonging to a large group of mostly nocturnal mammals, are not a true cat though they look like cats. The masked palm civets are one type of civets cats which have a white and black striped face.

Yuen said it was important that the civet cats and other game food animals should be raised, slaughtered and sold under careful monitoring to prevent more outbreaks of SARS in people.

"If you cannot control further jumping of such viruses from animals to humans, the same epidemic can occur again," he said.

Yuen's team had previously said SARS came from animals but they had not been sure which kind. His team is the earliest in the world to identify that SARS virus is a type of coronavirus.

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