Cats, foxes SARS carriers: report

Scientists in China say they have found that cats and foxes can also carry the virus that causes severe acute respiratory syndrome, not just civet cats.

Studies also show that more than 10 per cent of people working in animal markets in southern China's Guangdong province are carriers of the virus.

China's official Xinhua news agency said researchers tested foxes, hedgeshrews and cats collected in Guangdong, the province where SARS first emerged in November 2002.

They found that some of the animals were carriers of the virus.

The report quotes the leader of the research team, Lin Jinyan, as saying thousands of people carrying SARS antibodies had been tested in 16 cities in Guangdong.

More than 10 per cent of the nearly 1,000 people working in animal markets tested positive. But only 3.25 per cent of those who handled civet cats were found to carry the virus.

Earlier research showed that a coronavirus found in civet cats in a Guangdong animal market was almost identical to that found in human SARS patients.

China carried out a cull of nearly 4,000 civet cats in Guangdong last January to try to stem the spread of SARS. The mongoose-like animal has long been a delicacy in China.

A week-long investigation by the World Health Organization in Guangzhou found the SARS virus in cages housing civets at a restaurant where one of the suspected cases worked as a waitress.

WHO experts urged caution, however, against jumping to conclusions that the disease was being spread from civets to humans.