US Bans Civet Imports to Stop SARS Spread

Medical Authors and Editors: Barbara K. Hecht, Ph.D. and Frederick Hecht, M.D.

Jan 13, 2004 -- As part of the national plan to prevent the spread of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), HHS Secretary Tommy G. Thompson today announced an immediate embargo on importation of civets to the United States. The small animals have been identified as a possible link to SARS transmission in China.

"Public health experts are concerned that civets may transmit SARS to humans, who may then pass it on to other people," Secretary Thompson said. "This embargo will help us protect the American public and prevent introduction of SARS in the United States."

The Nature of the Embargo

The embargo, which applies to dead and live civets as well as civet products, will remain in place until further notice. Civet products that have been processed to render them noninfectious, such as fully taxidermied animals and finished trophies, are not included in the embargo. The ban does not apply to those who received permission from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to import civet cats for educational or scientific purposes.

The Reason for the Embargo

Public health officials are concerned about the possibility that the coronavirus that causes SARS was originally transmitted from animals to humans, sparking the 2003 SARS outbreak in Asia. Growing indirect evidence suggests exposure to certain wild animals may increase risk of infection. However, there is no evidence that humans were infected with the SARS coronavirus from direct contact with certain wild animals. Based on the limited data available, the most appropriate action at this time is that the movement of civets should be restricted and contact with them should be minimized.

Background on SARS

SARS was first reported in Asia in February 2003 and spread to more than two dozen countries in North America, South America, Europe and Asia. In the United States, there were a total of 192 probable and suspect cases of SARS. Only eight were laboratory confirmed as SARS coronavirus and all of the patients recovered.

SARS is a viral respiratory illness that causes high fever and a number of other symptoms including headache, body aches and respiratory symptoms. SARS is fatal in about 10 percent of cases.


Press release entitled "Headline: HHS bans civet imports, action intended to prevent spread of SARS" received by MedicineNet from the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), a part of HHS (Department of Health and Human Servives), at 11:55 am, Jan 13, 2004.

SARS & Related Links

  • The SARS Epidemic in Perspective (Doctor's View by Dr. Frederick Hecht)
  • Coronavirus
  • SARS (main article)
  • SARS, Prevention and Protection
  • Travel Medicine Center

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