January 15, 2004



WHO Investigates China Market Over Possible Link Between Poultry and SARS


In a bid to track the source of SARS in China, World Health Organization (WHO) investigators on Wednesday revisited a live-animal market in southern China to examine chickens, ducks and other edible creatures to verify accuracy of linking poultry to SARS incidents.


China has one confirmed case of severe acute respiratory syndrome this season and two suspected ones, and SARS-shaken Guangdong province is in the middle of a very public cleanup effort to prevent the illness from spreading as it did last year.


In Guangzhou, the provincial capital, WHO investigators returned to the city's largest animal market, going from stall to stall and gathering additional swabs to add to complement those already collected.


"They wanted to sample a few more of the areas," WHO spokesman Roy Wadia, in Guangzhou with the team, said in a telephone interview. Nearby, investigators took samples from a poultry stall that sold chickens and ducks, among other birds.


"They felt that the first time they were here, they just went to a few stalls that sold civets in the recent past," Wadia said. "This time, they're taking samples from stalls that sell other animals and even birds. It's an exercise to compare samples from different places."


He emphasized that there was no evidence linking poultry to SARS.


Last week, Guangdong ordered the slaughter of thousands of civet cats on suspicions that the weasel-like mammal, considered a delicacy in the region, could be responsible for SARS jumping from animals to humans. Though the virus has been isolated in civets, no definitive evidence has shown they passed it to people.


The WHO team is scheduled to leave Guangzhou and return to Beijing on Friday. Its leader, Dr. Robert Breiman, was meeting Thursday with officials from the provincial Center for Disease Control and discussing SARS-related data collection.


WHO was awaiting test results of samples taken earlier in the week from the market and two other places a wildlife restaurant where a 20-year-old waitress suspected of having the virus works and the residence of a 32-year-old TV producer who is the season's only confirmed case so far.


"It'll be two or three days before we get any (results)," spokesman Bob Dietz said in Beijing.


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