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SARS Re-Emerges in Southern China - 2004-01-05

China's Ministry of Health and the World Health Organization have confirmed that a pneumonia patient in southern China has tested positive for Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome. The case is the first that does not involve laboratory workers since the global SARS outbreak faded last July.

Xu Yueheng, the vice-director of Guangdong's Center for Disease Control, says tests on a 32-year-old pneumonia patient show he has Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome. The man is in a hospital in Guangdong Province in southern China.

Dr. Xu tells China's state-owned television, CCTV, that the patient is in stable condition.

According to World Health Organization records, this is the first confirmed case of SARS contracted outside a laboratory since last July when the initial outbreak faded. The only other known cases since then were researchers who apparently mishandled virus samples.

So far, China says none of the man's family or associates have shown signs of the disease, which causes severe flu-like symptoms that often develop into pneumonia.

Microbiologist KY Yuen of Hong Kong University led a team of Hong Kong researchers studying virus samples from the Guangdong patient. Dr. Yuen says the samples show a close match to strains of SARS virus found in civets, a wild mammal sold in food markets in China.

He believes the SARS virus probably re-emerged after it jumped from civets to infect the man or other animal populations. One of China'a state newspapers reported that the patient had trapped rats in his home and the rats later tested positive for the virus.

Health authorities in Guangdong reacted to the new diagnosis by closing wildlife food markets that sell civets and by promising to eradicate rat populations.

Feng Liuxiang, the deputy director of the Guangdong health department, said 10,000 civets will be culled.

SARS first emerged in Guangdong in late 2002 before spreading to infect about eight thousand people worldwide. At least 700 people died from SARS, most of them in China and Hong Kong.

Last year the mysterious illness prompted the World Health Organization to warn travelers to avoid areas where SARS cases were occurring. Those warnings and fears of the illness caused tourism in Asia to plunge. Some cities, including Singapore and Hong Kong, are still recovering from the economic downturn caused by the health crisis.