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China to test human SARS vaccine

Health investigators are still seeking the new source of SARS.
Health investigators are still seeking the new source of SARS.

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BEIJING, China -- China has approved human trials for a SARS vaccine after tests were carried out safely on monkeys.

The green light to start human tests has been given by China's State Food and Drug Administration.

China has maintained its SARS vigilance following the recent emergence of three confirmed cases in southern Guangdong province, where the deadly virus first emerged in late 2002.

Chinese doctors could begin human trials soon, though it would still take an unspecified amount of time before a vaccine could be marketed, the official Xinhua news agency reported late Monday.

U.S. scientists have genetically engineered a SARS vaccine that showed promising results on monkeys. Canadian scientists also hope to test a vaccine on humans this year.

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao said China had won the battle against SARS after two of three SARS victims recovered in recent weeks. The third SARS victim remains in stable condition.

SARS first emerged in Guangdong in 2002 before being spread by travelers to more than 30 countries, infecting 8,000 people and killing nearly 800.

The global outbreak was declared over in mid-2003 by the World Health Organization (WHO) which says a vaccine could take at least two years to develop.

A WHO investigation team remains in southern Guangdong province, unable to identify the new source of the SARS outbreak.

Tests on civet cats, kept at a restaurant where one victim worked, have proved SARS-positive. However, WHO investigators said it was still unclear how the virus was transmitted from the cats to humans.

"It is also possible that other animal species are reservoirs and may be able to transmit SARS," WHO investigators said in a statement.

They said there was no indication the recent outbreak was the first example of a milder version of SARS, and vow they will continue their probe.

Chinese authorities now fear the disease may spread as tens of millions of people are expected to take to the road, railways and air to return home for Chinese New Year.

Officials will scrutinize travelers in five provincial areas in north China, including Beijing, with a population of 14 million, and the neighboring port of Tianjin during the holiday.

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