To fight SARS, China moves to knock civets off menus

Nov 3, 2004 (CIDRAP News) – To guard against SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome), the Chinese government has banned the killing and cooking of civets, which have been carriers of the SARS virus in southern China, according to news reports yesterday.

The newspaper Beijing Daily reported that the ban was part of new rules issued Nov 1 by China's Health Ministry, according to the Associated Press and Reuters. The rules ban "the slaughter, cooking, and selling of wild animals like civet cat and advocate civilized dietary habits," a Reuters story said.

The ban came about 3 weeks after a report that Chinese government scientists had concluded that civets are the main animal source of the SARS virus. An Oct 11 Reuters report quoted the SARS Defense and Cure Scientific Group as saying, "Research proves that the civet cat is the primary animal source of the human SARS virus, with the ability to spread the virus." But the group stopped short of saying civets are the only source of the human virus.

The announcement also followed an Oct 23 report that 70% of a sample of 103 civets from southern China's Guangdong province carried the virus, according to Reuters. The report said no civets from northern or eastern China were found to be infected.

SARS emerged in late 2002 in Guangdong, where civets are considered a delicacy. The disease spread from there to Hong Kong in February 2003 and then on to many other countries around the world.

After civets were found to carry the virus, restaurants were barred from serving them for several months in 2003. Thousands of the animals were seized from farms and wildlife markets and killed last January after a few new cases of the disease occurred in southern China.

See also:

Jan 16, 2004, CIDRAP News story, "WHO sees more evidence of civet role in SARS"

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