Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Something Else to Worry About

In China the death toll has risen to 24 from a baffling illness which Chinese health officials say is caused by known bacteria from pigs. Twenty one others are in critical conditions while only five have recovered.

China says the disease is caused by the pig bacterium Streptococcus suis. According to the Chinese Ministry of Health the first cases surfaced in June 2005 in two cities in China’s Sichuan province. All cases were either farmers that had butchered infected pigs or people who later handled the contaminated pork products. China says there is no person to person transmission reported.

The first recorded human case of S. suis was in Denmark in 1968. Only 200 cases have been reported since then, excluding the current outbreak. Dick Thompson, a World Health Organization (WHO) spokesman in Geneva told New Scientist full laboratory reports on the 76 confirmed and 41 suspected infections will help experts to understand why this outbreak has grown so large and deadly. They will look for co-infection with other pathogens and attempt to solidify the diagnosis and extent of the outbreak.

Some are concerned that the infections disease could be the feared outbreak of bird flu. The World Health Organization says it is not disputing China's contention that a known pig-borne bacteria has caused the latest deaths, but says the high mortality rate is alarming.

"It's never occurred in an outbreak this big before," WHO spokesman Bob Dietz told AFP. "We're accustomed to seeing only one or two cases. We're not accustomed to this large number of people getting infected. And we don't understand why that is." Dietz said it is still too early to say if a serious outbreak of the disease is imminent. "We do see a steady increase in numbers in reported cases, and a slow but steady rise of deaths. But these types of hard figures are still not reliable enough to make a prediction of course," he said.

Nearly one third of those so far infected have died. Syptoms of the disease include high fever, nausea, vomiting and haemorrhaging.

ProMed reports that Hong Kong has ordered hospitals to be on alert for people exhibiting symptoms such as fever and nausea and advised travelers to Sichuan to take precautions such as not touching dead animals and using mosquito repellant.

Yesterday Chinese health officials admitted that they have yet to find any treatment for those who have been infected. "The (Chinese) Center for Disease Control and Prevention is conducting drug sensitivity tests to find a more effective treatment," Ministry of Health spokesperson Mao Qun'an told China Daily, and daily reports on the situation have been made to the WHO.

The provincial and central governments have launched campaigns to identify
and destroy infected pigs and shut down channels for the bacteria to
spread, including forbidding farmers from slaughtering or processing infected pigs. Sources: ProMed, People’s Daily (China), China Daily, Xinhua, New Scientist

No comments: