Last updated at: (Beijing Time) Friday, August 15, 2003

Experts Search for SARS Virus in China's Guangdong

An international group of experts arrived in South China's Guangdong Province Thursday to search for the possible source of the SARS virus.


An international group of experts arrived in South China's Guangdong Province Thursday to search for the possible source of the SARS virus.

The southern province was where the first SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) cases were reported.

The group is composed of eight overseas experts who have been sent by the United World Health Organization (WHO) and Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). Seven Chinese experts were also invited by the Ministry of Health.

"The main task of the group is to work to find the source of the coronavirus, which causes SARS, and to investigate the possible animal source of the virus," a WHO spokeswomansaid in an exclusive interview.

Meanwhile, WHO and FAO experts will work closely with their Chinese counterparts and review the findings of Chinese scientists in their searching for the possible source of the virus which transmitted it to human beings, the WHO official said.

China has carried out a wide investigation into the animal sources of the coronavirus. However, most of these results are either unknown to or have not been approved by overseas scientific circles due to poor communications with the outside world, Klaus Stohr, a top WHO SARS research scientist said recently.

The studies conclude that the Chinese experts have successfully separated the coronavirus from several wild animals, such as masked palm civets, established coronavirus rhesus infection models, and found measures on how to check out SARS virus from T lymphocytes, Stohr noted.

The delegation is widely believed to be a bid to strengthen exchanges and scientific research co-operation on the source of the virus and transmission information between international organizations and China, the world's biggest victim of the deadly epidemic.

The SARS epidemic spread to 24 provinces and regions in China since its first outbreak in Guangdong last November, infecting 5,327 people and killing 348.

Presently, the epidemic is under effective control and only six patients are still receiving medical treatment in Beijing.

Although Chinese experts have made a lot of progress in searching for the possible animal hosts, the final conclusion of which animal or something else transmits the virus to human beings has not been made and further and long-term research is needed, expert Liu Qiyong told China Daily.

As one member of the visiting group, Liu is the assistant director of the Infectious Diseases Prevention and Control Institute of the Chinese Centre for Disease Control and Prevention.

The group will visit the places where the first SARS patients were found and will meet and discuss the issue with local scientists in Guangdong, said Qi Qingdong, a division director of the International Co-operation Department of the Ministry of Health.

After their return to Beijing, the group will hold meetings with officials and experts from various departments under the State Council, such as health, agriculture and science and technology, on August 21, Qi noted.

The experts from the WHO and FAO, headed by Pierre Formenty, an infectious diseases surveillance and response expert from the general headquarters of the WHO which is based in the Swiss city of Geneva, arrived in Beijing on Monday.

Other experts in Formenty's group include Hume Field, an Australian animal research expert from the FAO, Francois Moutou, an epidemics and animal diseases expert from France, and Yi Guan, a virus expert from Hong Kong University.

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