The World Health Organization says the SARS virus has shown up in samples taken from a restaurant in southern China where a waitress suspected of contracting the disease worked. The agency says this is further evidence that SARS has been transmitted from animals to humans in recent weeks.
The restaurant in the city of Guangzhou served civet, a weasel-like mammal suspected of harboring the virus that causes Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome.
When a waitress from the restaurant came down with SARS symptoms in December, the World Health Organization sent a team to investigate.
Dr. Robert Breiman, who led the team, announced researchers' findings on Friday. He says samples taken from the cages where the restaurant kept the animals tested positive for the SARS virus.
"Not only were there civet cats there, but at some point civet cats that were there were carrying the SARS coronavirus," he explained.
Until recently, wild game restaurants in southern China were still stocking live civet to serve to customers.
But authorities ordered a province-wide cull of civets two weeks ago after a Guangdong Province man tested positive for a strain of the SARS virus found in civets. Thousands of the animals were killed.
Dr. Breiman says there is mounting evidence that some animals can transmit the disease to humans.
"[There is a] very good reason to believe that animals are the reservoir and ultimately the source of SARS…Last year, once the virus was introduced into some humans it is very easily transmitted from person to person," he said.
The Guangzhou waitress remains hospitalized with pneumonia, a typical complication of SARS, but doctors have not yet said that she definitely has the disease. The man confirmed as having SARS has since recovered.
Experts fear a repeat of the SARS outbreak, which originated in southern China in late 2002 and spread to about eight-thousand people worldwide before fading last July.
Most of those cases and seven hundred deaths were concentrated in Southern China and Hong Kong.