The only suspected SARS case in south China's Guangdong Province has been confirmed as a diagnosed case, Chinese Ministry of Health (MOH) said Monday.
The patient remains in stable condition with normal temperature, according to an MOH press release.
The virus sample of the patient has been tested by Guangdong Disease Prevention and Control Center and China Disease Prevention and Control Center and received further examination in two networked labs of the World Health Organization by various means.
The 42 people with close contact of the patient have been isolated for further medical observation and 25 of them with normal physical symptoms have been freed from observation, the press release said.
The case is now the first SARS patient on the Chinese mainland since the epidemic was contained last July, and also the first one contracted outside the labs. Earlier, two lab researchers in Singapore and Taiwan caught the life-threatening virus respectively.
All the 81 people that had contact with him had been quarantined but none showed SARS symptoms by Monday. Twenty-five of them have been released.
Lovely, deadly civet cats
The latest research has shown a close link to the animal.Officials in the capital city of South China's Guangdong Province are now conducting a province-wide effort to cull 10,000 civets.
The genetic sequence of the coronavirus detected in the civets by researchers at the University of Hong Kong and the Shenzhen Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has been found to be nearly identical with that of the virus sample of the new case in Guangzhou, said Lin Jinyan, deputy director of Guangdong CDC.
Hong Kong microbiologists have conducted a series of tests on civets since the suspected SARS case was reported late last month.
In the origin-seeking research, 27 mammal species were sampled, two more than a similar test last May, said Zhuang Zhixiong, director of Shenzhen CDC. And abundant strains of the deadly virus were found in civet samples.
Researchers from the Guangdong CDC further confirmed the finding, adding that the genetic differences between the coronavirus on civets and the virus sample separated from the patient is extremely slim, with only eight points in the respective genetic codes. In comparison, last year's test showed a difference of 18 points, said Chen Qiuhong of Guangdong CDC.
Experts from Guangdong and Hong Kong agree that masked palm civets are now considered the main carrier of the SARS virus.
Officials from the Guangdong Provincial Public Health Administration (GPPHA) have called on the public to stop any activities that involve the animal, including capturing, transporting, selling and eating it.
Even the badger, whose living environment is very similar to the civet, is being suggested for a ban.
Feng Liuxiang, GPPHA's deputy director, said that there are all together about 10,000 masked palm civets in Guangdong, most of which were transported from Shaanxi Province in Northwest China.They will be killed and buried to prevent another SARS outbreak.
Restaurants are being inspected and, if they are found to be processing or selling civet meat, their business licenses and sanitation certificates will be revoked, effectively resulting in a shutdown, said Feng.
WHO welcomed the decision to "try to minimize contact between humans and the animals thought to be carrying the SARS virus".
"WHO has long maintained that animals could be reservoirs for the SARS coronavirus, and hence a source of infection," said Dr Hitoshi Oshitani, who is leading WHO's response to SARS in the Western Pacific Region.
Oshitani cautioned that if wild animals are to be slaughtered, the people carrying out the cull should be protected from infection. He also warned against the danger of wildlife trading being driven underground, where it would not be monitored.
The civet has been through ups and downs since the first time it was identified last May as the likely SARS carrier from which the virus jumped to humans under the right, or rather wrong, circumstances, said researchers at the University of Hong Kong and Shenzhen CDC.
The civet is traditionally consumed in Guangdong as a nutrient food. It was banned during last year's SARS epidemic, but its fame as a culinary delicacy was reclaimed on August 12 when the State Forestry Bureau put it back on the list of acceptable commercial consumption. Public wariness was eased for a few months until yesterday's announcement.
According to Jiang Zhigang, president of the Animal Ecology and Conservation Institute under Chinese Academy of Sciences, there are about 600 civet breeding farms, with a total of 40,000 civets, on the Chinese mainland. Shaanxi alone accounts for a third of the total.
Guangdong is also launching a campaign to stamp out rats and cockroaches. It coincides with the traditional Chinese spring cleaning that happens before the Lunar New Year.
For a while, rats were the main suspects in the Guangdong SARS case since the rodents caught in the patient's apartment were found to contain a mutated strain of the virus.
Liu Qiyong, a scientist with China CDC who is on an inspection mission in Guangdong, said that more research has to be done before animal transmission and infection modes can be established.