World Health Organization investigators revisited a live-animal market in southern China on Wednesday, examining chickens, ducks and other edible creatures in their quest to track SARS to its source.
As the search continued, the government said last week’s interrogation of an editor for a newspaper that broke stories on severe acute respiratory syndrome was unrelated to his publication’s coverage of the virus.
China has one confirmed SARS case this season and two suspected ones, and SARS-shaken Guangdong province is in the middle of a very public cleanup effort to prevent the illness from spreading as it did last year.
In Guangzhou, the provincial capital, WHO investigators returned to the city’s largest animal market, going from stall to stall and gathering additional swabs to add to the complement already collected.
“They wanted to sample a few more of the areas,” WHO spokesman Roy Wadia, in Guangzhou with the team, said in a telephone interview.
Nearby, investigators took samples from a poultry stall.
“They felt that the first time they were here, they just went to a few stalls that sold civets in the recent past,” Wadia said. “This time, they’re taking samples from stalls that sell other animals and even birds. It’s an exercise to compare samples from different places.”
He emphasized that there was no evidence linking poultry to SARS.
Last week, Guangdong ordered the slaughter of thousands of civet cats on suspicions the weasel-like mammal, considered a delicacy in the region, could be responsible for SARS jumping from animals to humans. Though the virus has been isolated in civets, no definitive evidence has said they passed it to people.
Wadia said he saw no civets at the market Wednesday morning. Their sale has been outlawed across the province.
The WHO team is scheduled to leave Guangzhou and return to Beijing on Friday. Its leader, Dr. Robert Breiman, was meeting Thursday with officials from the provincial Center for Disease Control and discussing SARS-related data collection.
WHO was awaiting test results of samples already taken earlier in the week from the market and two other places — a wildlife restaurant where a 20-year-old waitress suspected to have the virus works and the residence of a 32-year-old TV producer, who is the season’s only confirmed case so far.
“It’ll be two or three days before we get any (results),” spokesman Bob Dietz said in Beijing.
On Wednesday afternoon, the national Health Ministry said it had delivered samples of the two suspected patients to WHO network laboratories “for verification.”
The only confirmed SARS patient was released from a hospital last week after being pronounced recovered, while the two suspected patients — the waitress and a 35-year-old man, both in Guangzhou — are still being treated. They were listed in stable condition Wednesday, the government said.
Severe acute respiratory syndrome emerged in Guangdong in late 2002 and sickened more than 8,000 people worldwide before subsiding in June. The disease killed 774 people.
Meanwhile, the state-controlled newspaper China Daily ran an unusual story denying other press reports saying the editor of the newspaper Southern Metropolitan Daily was interrogated because of his publication’s SARS coverage.
Quoting Guangdong government officials, China Daily said the editor was questioned because a newspaper staff member is suspected of involvement in a bribery case.
“The other reasons as speculated by some overseas media why the person in charge was questioned were groundless,” China Daily quoted an unnamed provincial press officer as saying.