Guangdong Province orders slaughter of civet cats

Authorities in the southern Chinese province of Guangdong have confirmed that a 32-year-old man in the province is indeed suffering from Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), in the first reported new case of the disease since July, RFA�s Mandarin and Cantonese services report.

News that the man had contracted the disease in Guangdong prompted the provincial government to speed up a planned slaughter of 10,000 civet cats, thought to be linked to the migration of the virus to humans. The weasel-like mammals are considered a delicacy in Guangdong and are served in wild game restaurants.

Researchers at Hong Kong University found similarities between a virus found in the civet cats and in the suspected SARS patient, suggesting the disease might have recently jumped from animals. The man�s illness was caused by a slightly different version of the SARS virus that killed around 800 people worldwide since the outbreak began in November 2002, Zhong Nanshan, director of the Guangzhou Institute of Respiratory Diseases, told reporters.

The Chinese Health Ministry said the illness contracted by the man�a television producer��has been confirmed as a diagnosed case� of SARS.

The World Health Organization (WHO) also confirmed the case as SARS, following a battery of diagnostic tests concluded in conjunction with Hong Kong scientists. However, WHO has urged the Chinese government to be cautious in its planned mass slaughter, amid fears the cull could eliminate evidence of the disease�s origins�and create new dangers.

�We could indeed be destroying the evidence,� Dr. Jeffrey Gilbert, a WHO animal expert, told a news conference in Beijing.

Dr. Julie Hall, the WHO�s SARS team leader in Beijing, said caution also was warranted to prevent any infection that could come from a mass killing of the animals. �There is a potential hazard there,� she said.

The Guangdong authorities also ordered all wild animal markets in the province closed.

SARS killed 349 people in Mainland China before authorities said they had contained the virus in the summer of 2003.

China banned trade in civets and 53 other wild animals last April amid sweeping efforts to stop the spread of SARS. That prohibition was lifted in August despite warnings that the animals might still pose a health threat. #####


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