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WHO Continues SARS Investigation in China - 2004-01-10

A team of experts from the World Health Organization is in its second day of investigation into possible new SARS cases in China's Guangdong Province. Their probe includes a restaurant where a woman now suspected of having the disease worked as a waitress.

The WHO scientists on Saturday visited a restaurant where a 20-year-old waitress might have been infected with SARS.

The restaurant is reported to serve civet and other wild game, which are considered delicacies in southern China.

China's state media reported Friday that the hospitalized women, who is still classified as a "suspected" SARS case, had handled civet, the animal that some scientists believe might be passing the SARS virus on to humans.

The Chinese government has ordered the killing of all civets in Guangdong, where the disease first showed its face more than a year ago. Reports say thousands of the animals have been drowned, smothered and clubbed to death in the past several days.

But the WHO team's leader, Robert Breiman, says the team is not limiting its search for clues to any one animal.

"There may be more than one animal involved, or maybe there's an animal involved that is not one that would be currently suspected," he said.

Attention fell on civets after genetic tests linked a confirmed SARS case in Guangdong last week to a strain of the SARS virus previously found in the animal.

The effort to eradicate all possible reservoirs of SARS in Guangdong is now shifting to rats, which may also carry the virus. Authorities on Saturday called on residents to eliminate not only rats, but also cockroaches, flies and mosquitoes.

If the second suspected case is confirmed it could lead scientists to conclude that SARS has made a comeback. The first suspected case, a man in his 30s, was confirmed to have contracted the disease more than a week ago. He has since recovered following a mild bout of pneumonia.

SARS first emerged in Southern China in late 2002, but within eight months it had spread to more than a dozen countries, infecting some 8,000 people worldwide. Most of those cases, including 774 deaths, were concentrated in Hong Kong and mainland China.