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August 05, 2005

Sichuan Swine Disease Reports Continue to Puzzle ExpertsGee Dubya

The beginning of an AP story via the Washington Post:

Experts on a strep germ that's sickening people and pigs in China are baffled by reports of 37 farmers suddenly falling ill, bleeding under the skin and dying - all previously unheard of with the disease.

While not uncommon in pigs, Streptococcus suis is seldom seen in people and never dozens of cases all at once - raising bigger questions about whether the germ has mixed with some other bacteria or virus.

"Something is different," Marcelo Gottschalk, one of the world's leading experts on the disease, told The Associated Press on Wednesday.

"We are worried and we wonder what's happening. We would like to have the strain to identify."

Gottschalk works in the world's only reference laboratory for Streptococcus suis at the University of Montreal in Canada and says no one in China has contacted him for help since the outbreak was reported last month.

So few people have studied this disease, he's unsure how the Chinese have been able to identify it and what type of vaccine they plan to use since immunizations typically are not effective. Chinese state media have reported that enough vaccine for 350,000 pigs has already been sent to Sichuan province from a company in southern Guangdong province and that enough doses for 10 million swine will be shipped later.

As Gottschalk notes, the Chinese have not shared samples with his laboratory (and they haven't with anyone else, for that matter). Furthermore, there is a news blackout in effect in the region, so the only updates on the situation come from China's state media (which, by the way, has stated that the death toll is now 38).

I've also been curious about the vaccine China says it is using to prevent the spread of the disease. Not only do I wish to know what type of vaccine is it, but how China just happened to have such a large quantity stockpiled or how they produced so much of it in so little time (just over a month)? Perhaps China would care to share some information about the vaccine with the world? Or is the vaccine a state secret, too?

Despite the fact that a deeply disturbing mystery, which may have health implications for the planet, is evolving in a highly secretive and uncooperative China, the WHO is calmly sitting by and watching the events unfold:

To date, the Ministry of Health in China has reported 206 cases of human disease associated with an outbreak of Streptococcus suis in pigs. Of these human cases, 38 have been fatal. As reported by China, 18 patients are critically ill.

Virtually all cases have occurred in Sichuan Province, where infections with Streptococcus suis have been detected in pigs in a concurrent outbreak. The province has one of the largest pig populations in China.

Investigation and containment of the outbreak have been given high priority by Chinese authorities. The country’s ministries of health and agriculture are working in close collaboration, and WHO and FAO are being promptly informed of new developments.
So, basically, the WHO is taking China's word for it. Spectacular. The WHO has not done any inspections in the region nor has it analyzed any laboratory samples taken from infected pigs or humans.

I don't know why I'm expecting more from an agency of the United Nations.

Previous related posts:

H5N1 Avian Flu Virus Outbreaks in Poultry in Russia and Kazakhstan

Pig-Borne Illness in China Story Getting Curiouser and Curiouser

H5N1 Avian Flu Update: Read it and Weep

Posted by dymaxion at August 5, 2005 02:19 PM


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