Humanitarian Resource Institute:  A U.S. & International Resource on the Scope of Humanitarian Assistance
May 25, 2003

Stephen M. Apatow
Director of Research and Development 
Humanitarian Resource Institute Biodefense Reference Library
Foreign Animal and Zoonotic Disease Center
Eastern USA: (203) 668-0282   Western USA: (775) 884-4680


Recent discussions regarding SARS: Veterinary Public Health and Pandemic Disease, links human fecal fertilizer/feed (CIDRAP News, May 23, 2003):  as a potential source of coronavirus infection in masked palm civets, badger and a raccoon dog (WHO: Comments on the reported isolation of viruses related to the SARS coronavirus in wild animals in southern China). 

Research conducted (WHO: Studies of SARS virus survival) at one Hong Kong lab determined that the virus can survive in faeces for at least 2 days, and in urine for at least 24 hours. Studies conducted at a second Hong Kong lab found that virus in faeces taken from patients suffering from diarrhoea, which has a lower acidity than normal stools, could survive for 4 days.

Shedding of the SARS virus in faeces, respiratory secretions, and urine is now well-established. In Hong Kong in late March, a large and sudden cluster of more than 320 simultaneous cases occurred among residents of the Amoy Gardens housing estate. The outbreak raised the possibility of an environmental source of infection. Subsequent investigations suggested that contamination with sewage might have played a role. Around 66% of Amoy Gardens SARS patients presented with diarrhoea as a symptom, compared with 2% to 7% of cases in other outbreaks. 

Urban Animal Notes: Anaerobic Digestion in Rural China, Published by City Farmer, Canada's Office of Urban Agriculture:

"Approximately 70 percent of China's 1.2 billion people (840 million) live either on farms or in villages. No formal waste management systems are in place for these people.  Management practices for organic wastes include feeding them to animals, using them directly as a fertilizer, composting and anaerobic digestion."

Recent Speculation of human feces as a source of coronavirus infection in animals (masked palm civets, badger and raccoon dog) and then jumping species with the resultant strain of SARS (Researchers Link SARS to Animals), is an interesting hypothesis. 

According to the 24 May 2003 Washington Post article (Tests Indicate Animal Link for SARS): A detailed genetic analysis of the virus isolated from the animals found it was identical to the SARS virus from human patients except that it lacked one sequence. The missing genetic material carries instructions for the production of a small protein, known as a peptide, and may have been the change that allowed the virus to jump to humans and then spread readily.

As for China's capacity to contain SARS Coronavirus spread, the key to that objective may lie in its capacity to provide adequate sanitation for the 840 million population base in it's rural farms and villages.

For additional information and reports, visit the SARS: Epidemiological Tracking web site.

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