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Scientists warn of more serious disease threats than Sars
It`s a decade to the day since the disease first hit Hong Kong. Scientists say the city can cope if it returns but there are other, more serious threats.A decade on from the Sars outbreak, experts agree that the disease could return - but its effects are unlikely to be as devastating as in 2003.
Hong Kong is now fully capable of battling an epidemic - such as severe acute respiratory syndrome - thanks to much improved infrastructure and management software, they say. But that`s no reason to be complacent in the battle against contagious diseases. While Sars remains on their watch list, microbiologists are far more concerned about other biological threats - not least the H5N1 strain of bird flu.
Their concern has been sparked by the growing realisation of the risk of viruses crossing between species - much as Sars jumped from the Chinese horseshoe bat to the wild civet cat and then to humans.The same could happen again - with Sars or another virus.
"We cannot say the Sars virus is gone," said Professor Joseph Sriyal Malik Peiris of the University of Hong Kong`s School of Public Health. "We have to respect the ever-changing nature of micro-organisms ... it would be a mistake to believe an infectious disease can be put into a box and under control. It can continue to find a new host and mutate, or grow resistant to antibiotics."
Microbiologist Professor Guan Yi, also of HKU, agrees. "No one can be sure whether the Sars virus has really vanished from this world. Apparently the infectious chain has been cut off. But as long as people in China are secretly eating wild animal, the threat is still there."
Guan gained worldwide fame in May 2003 when he tracked down civet cats - sold for food at a Guangdong market - as a host of the virus and likely source for transmission to humans. But it took him months to get mainland authorities to close the market.
"After slaughtering some 500 animals in the market, new infectious human cases stopped. I believe this was when we cut off an infection chain," he said.
But now, a decade on, the market in wild animals for food is reviving. A survey last year by the Beijing-based Horizon Research Consultancy Group showed thatReadmore>>
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