Could this deadly outbreak be the result of a bio-terrorist act or a genetic engineering experiment gone wrong? What about the snake-oil salesman from Texas or the Chinese herbalist who claims to hold the cure for severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars)? And then there are the feverish concerns of several English families who ate Chinese food at the local restaurant 'but did not feel too well afterwards'. Such are the huge numbers of bizarre, quirky and credible reports filtering through every day that the World Health Organisation has set up an official rumour control centre in Geneva. The only thing spreading faster than the virus are the wild rumours about it, said Pat Drury, project manager for the Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network. He said snake-oil salesmen and bio-terrorism conspiracy theorists were part of the daily grind - known as 'rumour control' - in the network's operations room. 'We routinely monitor stories and reports and events around the world and try to verify the voracity of things going on,' he said. 'That is usually a busy chore. But with the Sars outbreak the workload has been increased tenfold.' Mr Drury said his office yesterday was in direct contact with 50 countries and fielded more than 90 media inquiries following up various rumours and reports. 'We get people ringing to warn us it is a bio-terrorist event, others telling us it is a genetic engineering experiment going wrong, to someone saying 'my neighbour works for an international humanitarian organisation in the Far East and is it okay for my kids to play with his kids?' ' One enthusiastic traveller had also reported a 'cure-all' for Sars. 'He wrote saying, 'I used a local product and it cured me. Here is a scanned image of the box, and you can buy them and distribute them and everyone will be okay'. 'Any minute now we are expecting the snake-oil salesman to turn up.' Mr Drury said they had a recent e-mail from a Texas rattlesnake farmer who told how rattlesnake milk could be an effective cure for the Ebola virus and possibly Sars. 'We are also getting homeopathic products and natural Chinese herbal remedy cures,' he said. The biggest challenge for WHO officials was to keep abreast of the enormous number of reports flowing in from around the globe, he said. The network is in daily contact with 110 agencies worldwide. 'We have a strong network of people who liaise at government level, so people can make informed decisions and follow up on suspected cases,' Mr Drury said. 'But quite often it is very difficult to marry a wild rumour or report to a potential important suspected case. 'We get the bizarre spectrum of people who claim they ate in a Chinese restaurant and don't feel well, to travellers who stayed in the Metropole Hotel - where the outbreak in Hong Kong appears to have started - and travelled to Hanoi and Shanghai. 'But this is a feature of all our rumour-verification processes.' This process usually started with a media report, leading to formal contact with the country's health ministry and the verification of facts. 'If we get 20 sick people coming off a plane we have to be able to say very quickly if it is food poisoning or something worse,' Mr Drury said.