Puzzling pig-linked disease spreads in China

Jul 28, 2005 (CIDRAP News) – A puzzling disease outbreak linked to pigs in southwestern China has expanded to 152 cases with 31 deaths, more than double the number of cases reported 3 days ago, according to Chinese news services.

China's Health Ministry reported the numbers as of noon today, according to China Daily. There were 106 confirmed cases of what the ministry called pig streptococcosis and 46 suspected ones, with 27 people in critical condition. On July 25 officials had reported just 58 cases, 17 of them fatal. All the cases are in Sichuan province.

The illness, featuring high fever, vomiting, and hemorrhaging, has affected people who handled sick or dead pigs. It has been attributed to the bacterium Streptococcus suis, commonly found in pigs, but past human outbreaks have typically been very small, according to health officials.

Experts told the Beijing Daily Messenger that the disease has struck only those who had contact with infected pigs or pork and had open wounds at the time, according to an Agence France-Presse (AFP) report today. Those who only ate the pork didn't get sick.

The World Health Organization said that if the disease is in fact caused by S suis, it would be the first time so many people had been affected at the same time, AFP reported. This would raise concern that the pathogen has become more virulent.

The AFP report said the disease is rare, with only 200-plus cases reported since the first recorded ones, in Denmark in 1968.

AFP quoted WHO spokesman Bob Dietz as saying that it was too early to know whether S suis is the cause, or the only cause, of the illness.

The Chinese Ministry of Agriculture said a vaccine for the illness would soon be produced and rushed to the affected area, according to a report today by the Chinese news service Xinhua. Doses "are expected to reach Sichuan Province in about one week after being inspected by the Ministry of Agriculture," the report said.

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