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Evidence SARS 'jumped from animals'

Cats rest at a wild animal market in Guangdong.
Cats rest at a wild animal market in Guangdong.

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HONG KONG, China -- Scientists say antibodies found in workers who handled exotic animals at a food market in South China supports their theory the SARS virus jumped from animals to humans.

In a random study of ten market workers in Guangdong's capital of Shenzhen, researchers from the University of Hong Kong and the Shenzhen Disease Prevention and Control Center, found five were carrying SARS antibodies, disease-fighting chemicals that give evidence of infection.

But none of them could recall being sick, which suggests they had mild infections, The Associated Press quoted WHO SARS virologist Dr. Klaus Stohr as saying.

The findings indicate workers caught the virus from the animals, developed a mild form of the disease, but then the virus mutated into a more virulent form before it was passed to other people, Shenzhen microbiologist He Jianfan told AP.

Last week, scientists said they had found the SARS virus in three species of mammals for sale at the Dongmen Market -- civet cats, raccoon dogs and badgers -- giving researchers some more clues in a puzzling disease.

Even as scientists rush to find the origins of SARS and a possible vaccine for it, in neighboring Hong Kong leaders on Wednesday asked a panel of international experts to help them prepare for future disease outbreaks.

The nine experts from around the world will assess how Hong Kong handled the SARS outbreak and make recommendations so that if the SARS virus hits again in force this winter, the city can be prepared. (City wants to do better)

The group, comprising nine medical experts from around the world, will come up with a report with recommendations by September, Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa told a news conference.

The flu-like virus has killed 270 people and infected 1,730 in Hong Kong after it jumped across the border from the neighboring province of Guangdong.

On Wednesday, Hong Kong authorities reported one person had died from SARS and two others had become infected.

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