July 29, 2005

Chinese cities on alert to block diseased pork

BEIJING (Reuters) - Beijing and several other cities set up
checkpoints Friday to block diseased pork linked to the deaths
of 32 people in China as authorities ordered a halt to the
slaughter of infected pigs in Sichuan province.

A veterinary inspection official said screening was
tightened on highways leading into the capital from surrounding
Hebei province to prevent a health threat to nearly 15 million

"City departments have taken effective control measures and
stopped the import of pork products from areas affected by the
pig-borne disease," Beijing's Food Safety Bureau said Friday
afternoon in a statement carried by Xinhua news agency.

"If pork from the affected areas is found, it will be
preserved and tested," the bureau said, adding no cases of pig
or human infection had been found in the Chinese capital.

Authorities said victims in southwestern Sichuan were
suffering from infections of Streptococcus suis bacteria,
contracted from slaughtering, handling or eating infected pigs.

One new death and 13 new infections, bringing the total
number to 163, had been reported in the 24 hours to midday on
Friday, the Ministry of Health said in a statement on its Web

For a second straight day, China said the rising numbers
were the result of discovery of unknown cases, not necessarily
the spread of the disease.

"Previously unknown cases have been found because disease
control experts have intensified their surveillance and
examinations of affected areas," Minister of Health Gao Qiang
said on state television Friday.

"The increase in cases does not mean there are new
infections. The people may have been infected in the past and
not found or reported."

Most of the cases have been reported in or around the
cities of Ziyang and Neijiang, but the disease has spread to
five other towns in Sichuan, including the provincial capital
of Chengdu where 12 people are infected, the Ministry of Health

Earlier Friday, during an inspection tour of the stricken
communities in Sichuan, Gao said the outbreak had been brought
under "preliminary control" but more needed to be done to
control its spread.

"Prevention workers and local officials need to strengthen
inspection work and prevent the slaughter, sale or transport of
sick or dead pigs," Gao said in a statement on the health
ministry's Web site, www.moh.gov.cn. The affected areas have
been sealed off, with human and vehicle traffic strictly
controlled, and the government urged scientists to work on a
vaccine for the disease, the official Xinhua agency quoted
Agriculture Minister Du Qinglin saying.


Officials from Sichuan and Beijing have been tight-lipped
about the outbreak, which the China Daily says was discovered
on June 24.

More than 50,000 health workers and officials had been sent
to the Ziyang area to inspect and register every pig and set up
39 temporary roadside quarantine stations to stop dead pigs
from going to market, the China Daily said.

Sichuan, the country's top pork-producing province, was
forced to suspend all exports of chilled and frozen pork from
Ziyang and Neijiang to Hong Kong this week.

Pork is China's favorite meat and the country consumes more
of it than anywhere else in the world.

Streptococcus suis, swine flu in layman's terms, is endemic
in swine in most pig-rearing countries in the world but human
infections are rare. Although China's state media have said no
human-to-human infections had been found in Sichuan, the death
toll is considered unusually high.

Swine flu is not known to have ever been passed between
humans, but scientists fear it could mutate into a bug that
could easily pass among people, unleashing a deadly epidemic.

(Additional reporting by Vivi Lin)