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Ministry OKs Human Trials of SARS Vaccine

A SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) vaccine has been developed and is entering a preliminary clinical testing period, the Ministry of Science and Technology has confirmed.

After nine months continual effort, the vaccine passed a State Food and Drug Administration evaluation, said Li Xueyong, vice-minister of science and technology and also deputy director of the national SARS vaccine technical group.

The first phase test aimed to see if it was safe and effective on the human body. The clinical study will involve production of a SARS vaccine by killing the virus with heat, the official said.

Scientists hope testing the vaccine on volunteers will not cause SARS, but instead work to make the human body immune to the disease.

The move is a milestone in the country's anti-SARS efforts, Zheng Youyu, director of the State Food and Drug Administration, said, but it would still take time to make the vaccine marketable.

The vaccine was found safe in experiments on animals, including the rhesus monkey, said Zheng.

Since last year's outbreak of SARS, Chinese scientists had worked strenuously to find an anti-SARS vaccine, said Li. Yesterday the latest Guangdong SARS patient, a 35-year-old private businessman, was still hospitalized but had a normal temperature for 13 consecutive days. "None of the people in contact with him has developed a fever or shown other abnormal symptoms," he said.

So far, China has reported three diagnosed SARS cases this year, all from Guangdong.

The other two cases, a 32-year-old TV producer and a 20-year-old waitress, have been discharged from hospital earlier this month.

All three cases appeared to be milder than those in the SARS outbreak last year. Experts with the World Health Organization said the three patients all recovered quickly and had low infection levels.

Across the nation, stricter disease prevention measures are being made during the holidays of Chinese traditional Lunar New Year or Spring Festival, Ministry of Health officials said yesterday.

A smooth and efficient epidemic reporting system will continue to be maintained along with the daily SARS monitoring report during the festival season, a spokesman said.

In Hong Kong, the region's last SARS patient was discharged from hospital on Sunday night, the medical authority said yesterday.

The patient contracted the disease last March and was admitted to Prince of Wales Hospital for treatment. In August, he was transferred to Sha Tin Hospital.

The medical authority said no new cases have been reported in Hong Kong since the last SARS case was confirmed on June 2.

However, in view of the SARS cases in neighbouring Guangdong Province, people are urged to take precautions to prevent any possible SARS resurgence.

Over the past weeks, measures were reinforced in Hong Kong to prevent the return of SARS.

The SARS outbreak last year infected 1,755 people in Hong Kong, killing 299, including eight health care workers. Altogether more than 8,000 people in 32 nations and regions around the world were infected by SARS last year and some 900 died of the disease.

Meanwhile, as alerts on bird flu from neighbouring countries and regions are stepped up, the State General Administration for Quality Supervision and Inspection and Quarantine issued another urgent statement on Sunday to tighten quarantine checks on poultry and poultry products from flu affected places including South Korea, Japan, Viet Nam and Taiwan.

The statement called on co-operation and information sharing among departments of quarantine, customs, agriculture, health and industry and commerce administration.

The Ningbo Entry-Exit Inspection and Quarantine Bureau has seized a total of 135 kilograms of Japanese chicken meat in the east coast of Zhejiang Province. The chicken was found in the kitchen of a Japanese boat anchored in the Ningbo port on Thursday, local media said.

(China Daily January 20, 2004)

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