Chinese Pig-Borne Disease Spreads

Actor Kevin Costner yells "Gentlemen, start your engines!" before the NASCAR Nextel Cup Auto Club 500 in Fontana, Calif., Sunday, Feb. 25, 2007.
The death toll from a pig-borne disease in southwestern China rose to 31 on Friday as health officials stepped up preventative measures and tried to reassure the public that the government had the outbreak under control.

The disease, blamed on the bacteria streptococcus suis, has swept through dozens of villages in Sichuan province since June, infecting farmers who handled or butchered sick pigs.

So far, 152 confirmed and suspected cases have been found, with 27 people hospitalized in critical condition, according to the Ministry of Health. Seven patients have been released from the hospital.

"The epidemic is at present under control," the official Xinhua News Agency said, citing Health Minister Gao Qiang, who arrived in Sichuan on Thursday to inspect the area.

Gao warned that precautions - including a ban on the killing, transporting and selling of sick pigs - still needed to be taken since the source of the outbreak had not been determined. No person-to-person transmissions have been reported.

Jiang Zhuhui, a farmer, said he and his family were "afraid when the disease began to spread" and stopped eating pork.

"But now, we know that the disease is not infectious between people. That reassures us," Jiang said in a telephone interview.

Symptoms of the disease include, fever, nausea, vomiting and bleeding under the skin.

The World Health Organization has said it is the largest known outbreak of the disease in the region in recent years.

Bob Dietz, a WHO spokesman in Manila, said the streptococcus bacteria can enter humans from under the cuticles, through an open wound or - in less common cases - through ingestion of improperly cooked meat from a sick pig. In the latest outbreak, it was possible that another virus or bacteria was causing the high rate of infection, he said.