Apr 21, 2004 (CIDRAP News) – Foxes and cats have joined civets on the list of animals in southern China that may carry the SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) coronavirus, according to recent Chinese news reports.
Lin Jinyan, leader of a SARS research team in China's Guangdong province, reported at a seminar that some wild foxes, cats, and "hedgeshrews" had been found to carry the virus, according to a story on the China Daily Web site. The story came from a report in the Guangzhou Evening News.
Civets, which are raised and eaten in China, have been known to carry the virus and are suspected of playing a role in transmitting it to humans. However, SARS experts have not yet determined whether civets are the virus's natural reservoir. SARS first emerged in southern China in November 2002.
The China Daily report didn't specify how many foxes, cats, and shrews were tested or how many carried the virus.
The story also said Lin's team had found that 10.6% of 994 people working in animal markets in 16 Guangdong cities carried SARS antibodies. But among 123 people involved in raising civets, only about 3% had antibodies.
Evidence of the SARS virus in animals other than civets has been reported previously. In October 2003, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that Chinese researchers had found coronavirus sequences in bats, monkeys, snakes, and civets that matched or nearly matched sequences in the human SARS coronavirus.
Also last October, researchers from the Netherlands and Hong Kong reported an experiment in which domestic cats and ferrets were infected with the SARS virus and passed it to other cats and ferrets.
In two of the four SARS cases reported in China last winter, investigators found evidence of possible links with civets. Hong Kong researchers reported finding a coronavirus in civets that was very similar to the SARS virus in a 32-year-old Guangdong man whose case was confirmed in early January. Also in January, the SARS virus was found in samples from civet cages in a restaurant where a young woman who had a suspected case of SARS worked.
Because of civets' suspected role in SARS, Guangdong health officials in early January ordered the slaughter of all civets in captivity and said the province would permanently ban the sale and consumption of the animals.
Jan 16, 2004, CIDRAP News story, "WHO sees more evidence of civet role in SARS"
Oct 30, 2003, CIDRAP News story, "Cats and ferrets can carry SARS virus"
Oct 17, 2003, CDC report citing evidence of SARS virus in bats, monkeys, snakes, and civets