The fight against SARS in Hong Kong took two big steps forward yesterday as the World Health Organization (WHO) lifted a travel warning and researchers announced the disease came from civets -- a delicacy eaten by some Chinese.
The news came as the WHO's chief of communicable diseases said SARS' ability to spread isn't weakening.
University of Hong Kong researchers said that to prevent more outbreaks of SARS in people, civets and other game-food animals should be raised, slaughtered and sold under careful monitoring.
The researchers had previously said SARS came from animals but they had not been sure which kind.
Hong Kong had been lobbying for removal of the WHO travel advisory and WHO officials said early yesterday in Geneva they had lifted it.
Hong Kong Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa (
"What we've achieved so far has not been easy," Tung said, adding that Hong Kong needed to redouble its efforts in the fight against SARS.
Hong Kong recently has reduced its number of new SARS infections into the single digits, indicating the disease is largely under control.
Health officials reported two more SARS deaths in Hong Kong yesterday, pushing the toll to 260, and two new cases, bringing the total to 1,724. The territory's new cases have now been in the single digits for 20 consecutive days.
The Hong Kong researchers said they had successfully isolated a type of coronavirus that causes SARS in an animal called the masked palm civet. Microbiologist Yuen Kwok-yung said the scientists tested a large number of civets, and other game animals eaten by people in Guangdong Province, and they found coronavirus in four of the civets.
The researchers believe the SARS virus jumped straight from civets to people, though Yuen acknowledged they could not rule out the possibility other animals were involved in the transmission chain.
Meanwhile, in Geneva, Dr. David Heymann of the WHO said the SARS virus has infected chains of up to 15 people and it appears to be just as hardy in its last victim as in its first one, suggesting its ability to spread isn't weakening.