Sun, Jul 31, 2005 - Page 1 News List

Pig-borne epidemic shows no signs of slowing down

SICHUAN SICKNESS Officials have launched a campaign to educate farmers not to slaughter sick pigs or eat their meat; meanwhile some party cadres have lost their jobs

AGENCIES , BEIJING

The death toll in China from a mysterious pig-borne disease continued to rise, with several more cities affected, statistics showed yesterday, despite the government saying that the epidemic was under control.

The number of people killed by the streptococcus suis bacteria, which is usually spread among pigs, rose to 32 while the number of cases increased to 163, according to the health ministry's Web site.

That was one more death and 11 more cases than on Friday.

While some suspected cases had tested negative, more suspected or confirmed cases were being found, with a significant number of people still in hospital, 24 of them in critical condition.

Only 11 have been treated and released, the ministry said.

The epidemic first discovered last month was now affecting 155 villages in seven cities in Sichuan Province, including the provincial capital Chengdu, up from two cities initially, according to the ministry.

Still, it said the new cases were not necessarily new infections, but were discovered due to strengthened detection by health authorities.

Four officials from Ziyang city, where many of the infected pigs and humans were found, have been dismissed for dereliction of duty, China Daily said yesterday.

The communist party chief and deputy chief of Dongfeng town were fired after failing to prevent a farmer from butchering sick pigs. The farmer is still in hospital.

A quarantine official in Qingfeng town was sacked for allowing pigs to be transported outside an affected village despite a ban against pig and pork exports. Details of the fourth official were not disclosed, the report said.

Health Minister Gao Qiang (高強), who visited Sichuan this week, said on Thursday that the disease was "under control," but the World Health Organization (WHO) disagreed.

A team of 49 experts has been sent to affected areas to treat patients, the Beijing News said, but no effective medicine has been found -- one reason for the high death rate of one in five.

Agriculture Minister Du Qinglin (杜青林) asked provinces and municipalities, especially those bordering the infected regions, to have contingency plans in place.

So far all the officially reported cases are in Sichuan, China's largest pig-producing province.

A suspected case was reported in Chaozhou, Guangdong Province, but it originated from a southwestern province, the Xinhua news agency cited the health department as saying, without elaborating.

The epidemic has alarmed people as far away as Beijing.

Health inspectors there surveyed markets this week, checking for and destroying suspect pork. They also checked live pigs entering the capital for the bacteria and so far found no suspect swine, the Beijing News said.

Victims contracted the bacteria from slaughtering or processing infected pigs or handling infected pork, state media had quoted experts saying. Many had open wounds which allowed the bacteria to enter their blood stream.

Symptoms include high fever, vomiting and hemorrhaging, with many patients going into severe shock.

The WHO has said it was baffled because if the epidemic was caused by the bacteria, it would be the first time it had struck so many people at one time. Normally, only one or two cases of the rare disease are seen.

Sichuan officials have launched a campaign to educate poor, illiterate farmers not to slaughter sick pigs or eat their meat.

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