2003, Rome -- The threat of future SARS outbreaks must
be considered real as long as the source of the SARS coronavirus
remains obscure, FAO warned in a statement today.
"To date there is no evidence that farm
animal species have been infected with SARS coronavirus found in
humans," according to the UN agency.
The statement was based on a report by Laurie Gleeson,
a senior Australian veterinarian, from the Commonwealth
Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation's
Australian Animal Health Laboratory, who recently returned from
a three-week mission to China under the auspices of the joint
FAO/WHO study group on the SARS problem.
The purpose of the mission was to review the available
laboratory and field data collected from animal (domestic
species and wildlife) sources obtained by Chinese investigators
during and after the massive spread of SARS virus among the
Identifying an animal
reservoir would be of great importance for future prevention
measures in China or elsewhere if such an association could be
Dr. Gleeson met with Chinese and other
scientists, who are currently investigating the SARS virus to
assist in the interpretation of their findings and recommend
Chinese and Canadian
researchers have sampled or tested over 600 farm animals
including chickens, ducks, pigs and rabbits, but have not
detected evidence of SARS coronavirus infection.
In Beijing, and during intensive field travel, the
infectious disease expert met with scientists from the
Ministries of Agriculture and Health and several research
institutes as well as health officials from the World Health
Organisation (WHO) to assess the evidence that livestock could
have had a role in the origin and spread of the Severe Acute
Respiratory Syndrome pandemic.
Animal species under investigation
"Based on preliminary laboratory
testing, a number of animal species is under investigation as a
possible source for the virus, including the palm civet, racoon
dog, a species of fruit bat, and one species of snake,"
Dr Gleeson said, "yet we still don't know the
original source as it is possible that these animals were
exposed to the virus in the animal markets."
The expert recommended strengthening of
epidemiological capability through targeted surveillance studies
directed to animal populations considered to be at high risk of
exposure to SARS virus.
This would provide
information on the roles played by certain animal species and
ensure that they were included in an early warning system to
detect renewed viral circulation.
urgent need to develop better diagnostic tests for use in
animals and to define the relationship between the SARS virus
isolated from humans and the slightly different virus isolated
from animals was stressed.
disease surveillance at farms and slaughter houses is
recommended and Chinese authorities are currently well aware of
the need for this precautionary step.
Along with FAO, WHO is currently exploring ways to
follow up on Dr. Gleeson's recommendations for planning
further studies that target livestock species in high-risk areas
and for standardizing and validating laboratory tests for SARS
virus in animals, to further the scientific knowledge of SARS
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