July 26, 2005

Death toll from China pig disease rises to 24

BEIJING (Reuters) - The death toll in an outbreak of
pig-borne disease in the southwest Chinese province of Sichuan
has risen to 24, with another 117 thought be sick, state media
reported on Wednesday.

Victims were being treated with antibiotics, but with the
death toll mounting doctors said that approach was

"The Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention is
conducting drug sensitivity tests to find a more effective
treatment," the newspaper quoted Health Ministry spokesman Mao
Qun'an as saying.

Laboratory tests showed the affected people were suffering
from streptococcus suis infections contracted from the
slaughtering or handling of infected pigs.

The bacteria is endemic in swine in most pig-rearing
countries in the world but human infections are rare. Although
state media has said no human-to-human infections had been
found in the Sichuan outbreak, the death toll is unusually

The Sichuan mortality rate stands at 17 percent so far,
higher than the usual 10 percent, experts in Hong Kong said.

The disease can be prevented if people refrain from
slaughtering, processing or eating infected pigs, the China
Daily quoted Chen Huanchun, vice-president of Huazhong
Agricultural University as saying.

China was also working on a vaccine to protect pigs from
the disease, he said.

Sichuan authorities suspended exports of chilled and frozen
pork to Hong Kong on Tuesday, a Hong Kong government
spokeswoman said. The city imported 30,000 tonnes of chilled
and frozen pork from Sichuan last year.

Initially, 20 farm workers suffered fever, nausea and
hemorrhaging after handling sick or dead pigs and sheep in 12
towns and 15 villages in Sichuan province. More cases were
reported as health workers combed villages for ill people.

The Chinese government has launched campaigns to slaughter
infected pigs and investigate small farms with poor sanitation
standards, state media has said.

Pork prices in the affected Ziyang area of Sichuan have
dropped 20 percent, the newspaper said, and farmers were
worried their pigs would not survive the epidemic.

"If they die, it would mean a loss of 2,400 yuan ($296),"
farmer Wang Jian was quoted as saying, adding that was about
one-quarter of his family's annual income.

The government of Sichuan earlier dismissed speculation
that the deaths were caused by bird flu or Severe Acute
Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), an assessment affirmed by the
World Health Organization.

Global health officials have been on high alert over a bird
flu virus that has killed over 50 people in Asia since late

SARS emerged in south China in 2002 and spread across 30
countries, infecting nearly 8,500 people and killing about 800.