A group of scientists recently announced that a joint research
team had found a genetic link between the SARS coronavirus
appearing in civet cats and humans, bearing out claims that the
disease had jumped across species.
Health authorities initially blamed the outbreak of the
mysterious respiratory illness on the cat-like animal. It was
thought that SARS, or severe acute respiratory syndrome, had spread
to humans from civet cats that had been slaughtered for their
The results of the research project, jointly conducted by the
Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Hong Kong
University and the Guangzhou Center for Disease Control and
Prevention, are believed to be the first to provide a genetic basis
for how SARS spread.
"Our research has shown that the SARS coronavirus found in human
victims is the same as the SARS coronavirus found in civet cats,"
said Wang Ming, an official from the Guangzhou Center for Disease
Control and Prevention. Wang added that the discovery provided
proof that civet cats had spread SARS to humans.
Based on the team's findings, Wang advised the public to be
cautious about eating wild animals, particularly civet cats.
However, civet cats are still being sold in markets around
Guangzhou, the capital of South China's Guangdong Province.
Chen Xibiao, an official from the forestry branch of the
Guangzhou Public Security Bureau, said yesterday that his office
had launched a special city-wide campaign to fight against the
illegal sale of wild animals, particularly civet cats.
SARS first appeared in South China's Guangdong Province in
November 2002 and spread to 24 provinces, autonomous regions and
In early 2004, Scientists detected the SARS coronavirus in six
civet cats at a restaurant where a female worker had been diagnosed
with the illness.
"We also detected SARS infections in civet cats at an animal
market prior to the launch of this research project, but we were
not able to directly link the civet cats to the SARS patient," Wang
Scientists then brought the six civet cats from the restaurant
back to the laboratory, where tests showed that the disease the
animals carried had the same genetic profile as the coronavirus
affecting the SARS patient, Wang said.
"This discovery proves that civet cats are capable of spreading
the SARS virus to human beings," Wang said.
The team was recently award a prize for scientific and
technological development in Guangzhou in recognition of their
"Our research also proved that government efforts to cull civet
cats immediately after the out-break of SARS were worthwhile," Wang
(China Daily November 23, 2006)