Further Developments Made in SARS Vaccine Test

Research into a SARS vaccine is progressing smoothly and clinical analysis could be under way by the end of October, according to a report Wednesday quoting officials from the State Food and Drug Administration.

Yin Hongzhang said scientists have developed a SARS vaccine reagent and also tested it on monkeys.

The latest blood tests showed a monkey had developed a SARS antibody and had an immunity to the disease.

As the reagent's safety had been preliminarily assured, scientists will start carrying out more tests on animals, Wednesday's Xinhua report said.

If nothing goes wrong in the research into immunity pathology, the clinical research of a vaccine will be undertaken before the start of November, Yin said.

Since the end of April, several mainland scientific research groups have been assigned to focus on the research and production of a SARS vaccine.

At present, the vaccine reagent is an inactivated vaccine, meaning the virus has been inactivated artificially, Yin said.

Most hope rests with an inactivated vaccine as it can be acquired in the shortest period of time and is also the most likely to succeed.

In another development, some experts expressed reservations about reports concerning the masked palm civet -- a ferret-like creature -- alleged to be the source of SARS.

"Though we know the SARS virus and the virus found on the masked palm civet is 99 per cent similar, it is still too early to say that the animal passed the virus onto human,'' said Huang Wenjie, an expert from Guangzhou in South China's Guangdong Province.

Huang, who participated in investigations on initial SARS cases in the province, suggested the current research result could only confirm the masked palm civet was somewhat linked to SARS, but more investigations must be done on other kinds of animals to uncover the truth.

In fact, not only the masked palm civet, but also the bat, monkey and snake have all been found with a virus similar to the SARS infection, according to results from blood tests carried out by a research team organized by the Ministry of Agriculture on 59 types of wild animals.

Tu Changchun, a virus expert with the team, said they suspected more types of animals could have carried similar infections and a lot more work needed to be done to find how the human outbreak started.

Fewest cases yet

Only three new SARS cases were found in Beijing Wednesday, according to the Ministry of Health. But in addition, there were another three deaths.

In the mainland, there were four new SARS cases and four deaths.

In Hong Kong, two new cases were reported yesterday. Taiwan had 14 new cases, where the total climbed to 610.

Yesterday in Shanghai, a World Health Organization (WHO) expert said visitors to the city should have no fear of the flu-like disease.

Hilary Pereira said she backed Shanghai's SARS-control measures after a three-day inspection of the city.

"One of the big messages from here is I think foreign passengers should have confidence in the procedures taking place,'' said Pereira, a public health policy expert from Britain who is an interim adviser to the WHO. "They should have no fears of travelling.' "They (foreign travellers) should have no fears of travelling."

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