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UN team in China investigate SARS virus in animals

UN team in China to investigate potential presence of SARS virus in animals

A joint team of specialists from two United Nations agencies is in China to assist the government to design further investigations into a possible animal reservoir of the virus that causes the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS).

The team from the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) includes animal and human health experts, as well as specialists in tracking animal reservoirs for human diseases.

WHO's Pierre Formenty - who co-leads the team with the Director of China's National Institute of Communicable Disease, Xu Jianguo - stressed that the investigation remains a work in progress and that the mission's objective is to determine what further studies are needed to explore the potential for an animal reservoir and possible transmission to humans.

"The mission is not intended to provide a definitive answer about an animal reservoir for the SARS coronavirus," Dr. Formenty said. "To be able to implement SARS control and prevention measures, we need to know where it comes from. But unfortunately, a lot of question marks still remain; and as with other diseases, it could be years before the animal reservoir is discovered."

The experts visited Guangdong Province - where the disease first occurred late last year - from 13 to 19 August to conduct field visits to markets and farms, research centres, and human health facilities. The team returned to Beijing yesterday where it is expected to report to senior government officials tomorrow.

It is unknown whether SARS will return in November, when the cold weather season in China begins. And while comprehensive data will not be immediately available, even limited information will prove useful in combating the disease.

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