GUANGZHOU––Laboratory studies of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome directed by virologist Albert D.M.E. Osterhaus of the Erasmus Medical Center in Rotterdam, published in the October 30, 2003 edition of the British journal Nature, demonstrate that cats and ferrets could potentially carry SARS from filthy live markets to humans.
Osterhaus said his experimental goal was simply to find out if either cats or ferrets could be used as a laboratory model for SARS. His findings imply, however, that cats raised for human consumption may become a SARS vector especially if the cats are caged at live markets near whatever as yet unidentified wildlife species is the primary SARS vector
It is business as usual again in the notorious live markets of Guangzhau, China, capital of Guangdong province and also the reputed global capital of eating dogs, cats, and wildlife.
On October 20, 2003, a year after SARS emerged from the live markets, eventually killing at least 916 people worldwide, Guangzhou authorized local restaurants to resume serving palm civets, six of whom were found to be carrying SARS last May. SARS antibodies were also found in a ferret badger and a tanuki.
Chinese national vice minister of health Huang Jiafu pledged on a visit to Hong Kong that, “If civets are confirmed to be the source of SARS, we will definitely ban exports,” not reassuring in view that there is little open demand for civets in Hong Kong, while Hong Kong residents with a taste for wildlife typically visit Guangdong to indulge.
Any disease they might acquire in China could quickly spread, whether or not any of the infected animals came to Hong Kong.
CNN senior Asia correspondent Mike Chinoy returned to the Guangzhau live markets in November to tape a SARS retrospective.
Guided by Animals Asia Foundation president Jill Robinson and publicist Annie Mather, Chinoy and his crew were clearly shaken by the high volume of cruelty inflicted upon both wild and domestic animals––”frankly the worst that Annie and I have seen in nearly 20 years, and worse than pre-SARS,” Robinson said.
SARS has not recurred in Guangdong––yet––but other zoonoses associated with the live markets have erupted. On November 2, 2003 for example, the Haifeng County Disease Control Center in the Guang-dong city of Gongping issued an alert about an outbreak of hepatitis-A that has been tentatively traced to drinking a beverage containing frogs’ eggs.
Rabies killed 312 people in the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region in the south from January to September 2003, “a 152.9% rise over the total number of rabies cases in 2002,” the Regional Department of Health said in November 2003. Guangxi Diseases Prevention and Control Center deputy chief Yang Jinye asserted that, “The increase in pet ownership in Guangxi was the major cause of the rapid rise in rabies. There are about 6.2 million dogs in Guangxi,” Yang Jinye said, “of whom fewer than 20% have been immunized against rabies.”
Not acknowledged was that the vast majority of the dogs in the region are not pets at all, but rather are raised for meat. Dogs raised for meat are customarily not vaccinated. Chinese officials have argued that vaccinating dogs raised for meat is unnecessary, because unlike most pet dogs, they are kept penned, unable to wander.
Dogs from many different small breeders are typically bunched for sale and transport, however, and if even one dog has rabies, among a pen of dozens, the disease can swiftly be transmitted to all of them.
(See also “SARS shuts live markets, may change Chinese menus,” http://wp.me/p4pKmM-oj; SARS spread from live markets, but when?, http://wp.me/p4pKmM-oa); and “China to control wildlife cuisine, but will not close live markets, “ http://wp.me/p4pKmM-o0.)
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