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Nations prepare for return of SARS

Scientists fear it's a seasonal virus

Scientists fear it's a seasonal virus

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Almost a year has passed since the first case of SARS, and China believes it is better prepared to deal with another outbreak of the virus.
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Experts now believe the SARS virus is rooted in Chinese animal markets. CNN's Mike Chinoy reports (Contains graphic images).
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Hong Kong
World Health Organization (WHO)

(CNN) -- Scientists believe severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, emerged from the animal markets of southern China a year ago this month, and with fall coming, fears that the virus will make a comeback are brewing.

Dogs, cats, rabbits, badgers and other animals are sold to be eaten as delicacies in these markets, where scientists think the SARS virus jumped from animals to humans, possibly from a wild civet cat.

At its peak, more than 8,000 people in more than 25 countries were infected by SARS and more than 700 died, according to the World Health Organization.

W.H.O. declared the epidemic over in July, but health experts have said the disease is likely to return, much like seasonal outbreaks of flu or pneumonia.

At the height of the SARS epidemic last spring, the Chinese government banned the sale of wild animals in the markets, but lifted the ban in August.

Like the cold, no known treatment

Unlike the flu, SARS has no known treatment. Governments around the globe are working on a vaccine, but W.H.O. said this month that it will take at least two years to produce.

SARS is caused by a coronavirus never before seen in humans and is a member of one of the viral families that cause the common cold. Symptoms can include a high fever, chills, headache and a dry cough.

In China and Hong Kong -- hardest-hit by SARS -- authorities are already taking precautions in case of a re-emergence.

"At this point, people will be very alert in all the hospitals and we have been training the doctors in all the hospitals talking about this," said Dr. Zhong Nanshan with the Guangzhou Institute for Respiratory Diseases. "Now, people are very alert if these kind of symptoms are being reported."

Last month Beijing unveiled a new anti-SARS task force aimed at preventing any further outbreaks, and officials said hospitals and specialist clinics began intensive training for preventing and handling the disease.

In Hong Kong, Dr. Tong Chak-kwan said they are ready at Princess Margaret Hospital, which handled more than a third of all Hong Kong's SARS cases.

"We know what happened last time. We know the shortcomings. I'm not that scared," Tong said. "We've been preparing for the SARS [comeback] all the time."

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