Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Guangdong on alert against SARS

GUANGZHOU - South China's Guangdong Province, the first to report fatal severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS)cases in late 2002, has enhanced surveillance on civet cats, found by scientists to be a major carrier of the SARS virus, to prevent possible outbreaks in spring.

The province mobilized nearly 7,000 health inspectors in the past month and examined 10,000 restaurants for civet cats, according to the Guangdong Provincial Health Department.

A live civet cat and several frozen ones were confiscated and 18 restaurants were fined in the latest campaign across the province, said Huang Fei, deputy director of the department.

A restaurant in Shunde, Foshan City was fined 30,000 yuan ($3,800) for buying civet cats.

The province banned raising, selling, killing and eating of civet cats in January 2004.

Inspections have ever since been carried out every winter and spring to see whether the ban is strictly observed in the province.

"The efforts have been paying off since no infections have been reported," Huang said.

However, "the health departments have received increasing reports of illegal trade in civet cats since November," he Huang.

During the campaign, restaurants were required to make a written commitment on no trading of banned wild animals like civet cats.

Those who fail to keep the commitment will get their licenses revoked.

"The possibility of a SARS outbreak still exists in Guangdong in spring," said Luo Huiming, an official with the Guangdong Disease Control and Prevention Center.

SARS first broke out in Guangdong in November 2002 and spread to 24 provinces, autonomous regions and municipalities on the Chinese mainland.

The outbreak caused alarm around the world, with infected cases reported in 32 nations and regions. The disease claimed more than 700 lives worldwide, including at least 349 on the Chinese mainland.

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