Jan 5, 2004 (CIDRAP News) – The suspected case of SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) in a 32-year-old man in southern China has been confirmed by laboratory tests, the World Health Organization (WHO) said today.
The case is the first in China and the first anywhere in someone other than a laboratory researcher since the end of the global SARS outbreaks last July.
The WHO said tests for SARS-neutralizing antibodies were positive at three labs—two Hong Kong facilities that are part of the WHO international reference lab network and a lab at the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention in Beijing.
"The virus neutralization tests from all three labs indicate that the male patient, a 32-year-old television producer in Guangzhou, Guandong Province, has recently been exposed to a SARS coronavirus," the WHO's Western Pacific Region office said in a news release.
The WHO said the case does not indicate an immediate public health threat in southern China and it is safe to travel in the region. The statement said all 81 identified contacts of the patient are well. Seventeen healthcare workers who had contact with the patient will be observed until 14 days after their last contact with him, officials said. The other 64 contacts have been released from quarantine.
The patient has been in isolation in a Guangzhou hospital since Dec 20, WHO officials said. They said epidemiologic investigations in China have not indicated the man had any possible exposure to wild animals or any other known or suspected source of the virus.
However, China has ordered the killing of civet cats in all wildlife markets in Guangdong because of a possible link between the cats and the SARS case, the Associated Press (AP) reported. Researchers at Hong Kong University reported they found similarities between a virus found in civet cats and that in the SARS patient, suggesting that the virus might have jumped from animals to people, the story said.
The deputy director of Guangdong's health department, Feng Liuxiang, said all wildlife markets in the province were ordered to close, according to the AP report. Another official, Zhong Nanshan of the Guangzhou Institute of Respiratory Diseases, said other species in the wildlife markets, such as raccoon dogs and ferret badgers, would also be killed, according to the story.
Studies last year detected a SARS-like virus in civet cats and some other animals in southern China, and some evidence links the earliest human cases to contact with wild animals, a WHO statement noted. But no animal reservoir for the SARS coronavirus has been conclusively identified.
The WHO said it welcomed the Chinese decision "to try and minimize contact between humans and the animals thought to be carrying the SARS virus." However, Dr. Hitoshi Oshitani, leader of the WHO's SARS response in the Western Pacific Region, said those doing the culling should be careful to protect themselves from infection.
A joint team from the WHO and the Chinese Ministry of Health visited Guangdong last week and concluded that the SARS situation appeared to be under control, and that still holds true, the WHO said today. But the organization urged health authorities in Guangdong to further strengthen their surveillance system and broaden their investigation.
The SARS case in China is the third known case since last July. The other two cases involved researchers who worked with the SARS virus—one in Singapore in September and the other in Taiwan in December. The Singapore man recovered, and the Taiwanese researcher was released from a hospital last week.
In other developments, Filipino authorities isolated a couple in a Manila hospital because of possible SARS, the AP reported today. The story said the woman became feverish after arriving in Manila from Hong Kong, and her husband subsequently became feverish as well.
Jan 5 news release from WHO headquarters in Geneva