10 July 2003, Rome -- FAO will send a senior Australian veterinarian to China on Friday for a three-week visit to help coordinate an international investigation into the roles animals might play in spreading the deadly SARS virus.

Dr Laurie Gleeson, a leading viral disease expert from FAO's Collaborating Centre at the Australian Animal Health Laboratory in Geelong, will visit several Chinese provinces, FAO said.

He will be a focal point in communication between Chinese authorities, FAO, the World Health Organization and international researchers.

"FAO has taken the lead in providing this international collaboration with the Ministry of Agriculture in China. My role is to assist the Government of China to develop their programme to investigate animal related aspects of the SARS epidemic," Dr Gleeson said.

"During the mission we will collate information on research to date and identify areas that require further research. We will also explore where international collaboration will assist China to quickly resolve some key issues, such as the need for diagnostic tests for animals," he said.

"We need to know the natural host of the virus and understand if other animal species may become infected and are able to transmit it so we can be prepared to prevent epidemics of SARS arising in the future," he said.

Erwin Northoff
Information Officer, FAO
(+39) 06 570 53105