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Officials still seek animal carriers, call off civet cull

China has announced another "suspected" case of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), saying a 35-year-old man in the southern city of Guangzhou was the third patient to be linked to the virus, RFA's Cantonese and Mandarin services report.

Meanwhile, health officials called off a much-criticized cull of civet cats, which are possible suspects for an animal vector, or carrier, of the disease to humans.

The latest case was in the same city as the other two cases already reported, and was now at a hospital that specializes in SARS in Guangzhou, health officials said. Authorities have isolated 28 people who came into contact with him.

The man, who is reportedly in stable condition, will undergo further tests to confirm if he is indeed infected with the SARS coronavirus.

While the man is thought to have had no contact with wildlife before becoming ill, China's second suspected SARS case, a 20-year-old waitress from the Tongdeli restaurant in Guangzhou, may have come into contact with the weasel-like civet cats, which were on the menu at her workplace.

On Monday afternoon, a World Health Organization (WHO) team was analyzing samples taken from the apartment complex where the recovered patient lives, the Tongdeli restaurant, and a market where wild animals had been sold before an anti-SARS crackdown on their trade.

A WHO veterinary expert was also working with agricultural officials, while another WHO scientist was helping health authorities organize data, WHO spokesman Bob Dietz told reporters in Beijing.

Dietz said that while the agency was urging caution, "we still do not see a significant public health threat.'' He said a few cases in a country with a population of 1.3 billion should not be cause for alarm.

Amidst the new SARS outbreaks, the tourism trade has seen a decrease in recent weeks.

�In the area of tourism, tours from Hong Kong to Guangdong have reportedly been affected due to tourists� fears. The rate of Hong Kong tour agencies sending tour groups to Guangdong has been down 30%,� Hong Kong Economic Journal deputy editor-in-chief Chen Jinxiang told RFA�s Mandarin service.

�While tourism has decreased in Hong Kong, there has not yet been a decrease in Guangdong. This is because of the numerous warnings issued and strengthened prevention measures taken there, especially in terms of food in markets and crowds in public places. However, I believe the SARS impact will be more visible in Guangdong during the upcoming Chinese New Year period,� Chen said.

China suspects wild animals�particularly the civet cat, a striped relative of the mongoose�of spreading SARS to humans, though no definitive proof has been found. Guangdong Province has forbidden restaurants from serving civet cats and carried out a mass slaughter of the animals last week.

SARS�which infected 5,327 people in China nationwide from November 2002 to June 2003 and killed 349�re-emerged this season in a 32-year-old television producer, whose diagnosis was confirmed earlier this month. He left the hospital last week and was pronounced recovered.#####


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