WHO finds evidence to suggest animal-SARS link

WHO has found evidence that animals play role in SARS, uncovering traces of virus in restaurant where cats were served.

india Updated: Jan 16, 2004 13:09 IST

World Health Organisation investigators have found "very good evidence" to suggest that animals play a role in SARS, uncovering traces of the virus in the restaurant where a suspected patient worked and civet cats were served, the team's leader said today.

But Dr. Robert Breiman also said that SARS should not be considered an immediate public health threat in China -- a reassurance pivotal in its timing, days before hundreds of millions of people begin travelling around the country for the Chinese New Year.

In samples from the Guangzhou restaurant that employed a 20-year-old waitress suspected to have SARS, "Tests revealed on each cage the SARS coronavirus," Breiman said.

"Not only were there civet cats there, but at some point civet cats that were carrying the SARS coronavirus," he said at a news conference. He said traces were also found on swabs taken from the city's largest live-animal market.

"I think there is very good evidence to think animals are the reservoir and the way the disease gets started," Breiman said, adding: "We still don't know what role the civet cats play in spreading the virus."

Wild animals have long been a delicacy in Guangdong, and many suspect that exposure to or consumption of them may be linked to the spread of SARS -- and even its origins in late 2002.

Breiman emphasised that there was no way to know when the virus was deposited in the restaurant's cages or whether it was connected to the waitress' case.

First Published: Jan 16, 2004 13:09 IST