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Fearing SARS, US bans import of civet cats
( 2004-01-14 11:20) (chinadaily.com.cn/Agencies)

The United States has imposed an immediate embargo on the import of civet cats because of suspicions that the mongoose-like animal has spread the SARS virus to humans in China.

civet cats

"This embargo will help us protect the American public and prevent introduction of SARS in the United States," Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson said Tuesday.

While scientists have not found unequivocal evidence that the small tree-dwelling mammal is responsible for transmitting Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome to humans, they have found the SARS virus in civets and China has ordered the killing of thousands of the animals.

It wasn't clear how many civets, regarded as a delicacy in southern China, are imported into the United States so far.

Thompson said noninfectious civet products, such as taxidermied animals, and civets imported for educational or scientific purposes, would not be affected by the ban.

SARS emerged in Guangdong, southern China, in late 2002 and sickened more than 8,000 people worldwide before subsiding in June last year. The disease has killed nearly 800 people.

WHO Officials Interview SARS Suspects

World Health Organization (WHO) experts said in Guangzhou Tuesday that the 35-year-old suspected SARS patient was in "very good condition" and was likely to be discharged from hospital soon.

A WHO expert answers questions from reporters after visiting two SARS suspects in Guangzhou January 13, 2004. [Xinhua]

The joint mission of the WHO and the Chinese Health Ministry, investigating possible sources of SARS infection from animals, humans and the environment in Guangdong, visited the two SARS suspects Tuesday at the No. 8 People's Hospital in Guangzhou.

WHO experts said they had talks with the two SARS patients for over an hour and both of them "looked very well".

WHO epidemiologist Robert Breiman, who talked with the 35-year-old suspected SARS patient, said the patient seemed likely to be able to leave the hospital soon. "We asked him many questions and he answered them all clearly."

But Breiman said two preconditions should be met before the patient is discharged. "He should have a normal temperature for at least seven days and the shadow on his lung should completely disappear."

Visits to the two suspect SARS patients were originally not included in the joint mission's agenda in Guangdong. "When we arrived here on Jan. 8, we didn't know about the two suspect cases, so we plan to extend our stay here to Jan. 16 to complete extra investigations," said Roy Wadia, the WHO Guangdong team spokesman.

Jeffrey Gilbert, a WHO expert in diseases transmitted by animals, told reporters that his team has already got relevant information on the two suspected SARS cases from the Health Ministry and the Guangdong provincial health bureau. "We believe the face-to-face communication with the two patients would help us better understand their situation and make a diagnosis," he said.

After talking with the patients, the experts went to the second suspected SARS patient's rented house and collected samples from the walls, floors and desks in the house.

The rented house of the 20-year-old waitress who was identified as a suspect SARS patient was located along a narrow alleyway in Guangzhou's urban district. Local people said houses in that area were not well maintained and mostly used as warehouses.

Meanwhile, WHO China office spokesman Bob Dietz said in Beijing that two laboratories in Hong Kong have been contacted and both are prepared to conduct further tests on samples from both suspects.

"The Chinese Ministry of Health requested samples from both suspected cases be referred to the international SARS laboratory reference network for further analysis," said Dietz. "When the tests are completed, the WHO will be informed directly of the results."

The joint mission of the WHO and the Health Ministry have visited the apartment of the first confirmed SARS case, the restaurant the 20-year-old waitress worked at and Guangzhou's biggest wildlife market, collecting samples from animals there.

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