WHO finds link between animals and SARS

WHO team has "very good evidence" animals play a role in the spread of SARS, according to tests in China

A World Health Organization team working in China's Guangdong province says it has "very good evidence" that animals are connected to the spread of SARS.

Using equipment brought to China by Health Canada researchers, WHO members swabbed cages used to hold civet cats at wild animal markets in the southern Chinese city of Guangzhou.

Dr. Robert Breiman, head of the WHO team, said the "sophisticated laboratory tests" showed the presence of the SARS coronavirus in almost all of the cages.

"I think there is very good evidence to think animals are the reservoir and the way the disease gets started," said Breiman.

The tests do not prove what role the civet cat played in the spread of the disease, Breiman stressed.

"It doesn't prove anything, but it showed that the civet cats carried the virus," Breiman said at a news conference Friday.

Earlier in the month, Chinese authorities said they'd slaughtered close to 4,000 civet cats to try to stem the spread of severe acute respiratory syndrome. The mongoose-like animal has long been a delicacy in China.

Breiman warned people not to overreact, saying WHO does "not regard SARS at this moment as a particular public health threat."

There has been one confirmed case of SARS in China and two suspected cases since WHO declared an end to the outbreak in July.

A 32-year-old television producer was treated for the disease and released in early January.

One of the suspected cases, a 20-year-old waitress from Guangzhou, worked in a restaurant that served wild animals. Traces of the SARS coronavirus were discovered at the restaurant.