US bars civets to guard against SARS

Jan 13, 2004 (CIDRAP News) – Federal health officials today announced a ban on the importation of civets into the United States because of the suspicion that the animals can spread the SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) virus to people.

No animal has been clearly identified as the original source of the SARS coronavirus, but SARS-like viruses have been found in masked palm civets, which are used as food in China. Researchers in Hong Kong recently reported they found similarities between a virus found in civets and the SARS virus in a Chinese television producer who recently recovered from the disease.

"Public health experts are concerned that civets may transmit SARS to humans, who may then pass it on to other people," Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Tommy Thompson said in announcing the import ban.

The announcement recalled the ban on importation of African rodents following an outbreak of human monkeypox cases in the United States last spring. The disease was traced to a shipment of African rodents imported for use as pets. HHS gave no information on how many civets are currently imported or what they are used for in the United States.

The ban applies to both live and dead civets and civet products, except for those that have been rendered noninfectious, such as trophies and taxidermic specimens. The ban will continue until further notice, HHS said. The rule exempts people who have received permission from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to import civets for educational or scientific purposes.

The HHS announcement said, "Growing indirect evidence suggests exposure to certain wild animals may increase risk of infection. However, there is no evidence that humans were infected with the SARS coronavirus from direct contact with certain wild animals. Based on the limited data available, the most appropriate action at this time is that the movement of civets should be restricted and contact with them should be minimized."

Because of fear that civets may carry the SARS virus, authorities in southern China's Guangdong Province last week ordered the killing of thousands of the animals.

See also:

HHS news release

CDC question-and-answer bulletin on embargo on civets

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