BEIJING, July 25 -- Investigations are under way after a mysterious disease killed 17 farm workers and left at least 12 in a critical condition in hospital in Southwest China's Sichuan Province.
Zeng Huajin, a senior official with the provincial health department, said the deadly illness was "probably" caused by streptococcus suis, a bacteria usually spread among pigs.
"I can assure you that the disease is absolutely not SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome), anthrax or bird flu," the official said last night.
"If it is caused by streptococcus suis, we still need further research," he added.
An initial 20 farm workers who handled sick or dead pigs and sheep in 12 towns and 15 villages in Jianyang city and Ziyang city's Yanjiang district suffered from high fever, nausea, vomiting and haemorrhaging.
But more cases were reported as health workers began to search villages for the sick.
"By noon on Saturday, 58 people suspected of having the disease had been reported in Ziyang and (neighbouring) Neijiang," according to a statement last night from the provincial health department.
"Two people (of those 58) have been released from hospital while 27 of them are recovering," the statement said.
It said the patients were from 49 villages of 23 townships in Sichuan and they were not related to each other.
Zeng said the disease could not spread among humans, and normally only those with a weak immune system became ill.
The Ministry of Health and Ministry of Agriculture last week sent a special team to Sichuan to assist in the investigation, treatment and control of the outbreak.
The two departments were not available for comment yesterday.
"This is a good job of disease surveillance, and shows China has vastly improved its system since the SARS period in 2003," World Health Organization spokesman Bob Dietz was quoted by Bloomberg as saying.
A physician with Ziyang No 1 People's Hospital said yesterday that people could quickly become ill and doctors were busy carrying out emergency treatment.
All patients were reportedly being treated at three hospitals in Ziyang.
Yesterday, Hong Kong put out an alert relating to the disease.
Frozen pork from Sichuan is safe to eat, the Secretary for Health, Welfare and Food York Chow told the Hong Kong public.
He confirmed that no live pigs are imported from the province into the territory.
He said frozen pork imports come via designated companies with permits from the Hong Kong health authorities.Enditem
(Source: China Daily)