BEIJING (Reuters) - Chinese health authorities have launched a crackdown on restaurants offering civet cats for consumption, state media said on Wednesday, to prevent an outbreak of SARS linked with the cats.
Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) emerged in southern China in 2002, swept through the province of Guangdong and spread globally in 2003, infecting 8,000 people and killing 800.
Hong Kong scientists have said the SARS virus jumped from civet cat, a delicacy in southern China, to humans and quickly developed the ability to pass from person to person.
Reports of the illegal sale of civet cat had increased in recent months, the official People’s Daily said, citing the Guangdong Health Department.
“The (amount of) reports... has been higher than in recent years,” the newspaper quoted the bureau as saying.
Health inspectors had found 14 frozen and one live civet cat, and 22 kilograms of civet cat meat from 18 animals in a sweep of restaurants across the province, the newspaper said.
“It seems that some people are determined to start eating civet cats again since no new SARS cases have been reported over the past two years in Guangdong province,” the China Daily quoted Huang Fei, deputy director of the Guangdong Health Department, as saying.
“It’s a very dangerous sign,” he said.
In 2004, civet cats were culled in their thousands, and their sale and consumption banned, after World Health Organization experts found evidence of the virus in cages in a restaurant where a patient served up civet dishes.
Last November, a joint China-Hong Kong research team said it had found a genetic link between SARS in civet cats and humans, state media reported.