The United Nations World Health Organization (WHO) today said it was following closely reports from China that at least 38 people have died and more than 200 others have been made ill by a swine-borne disease in Sichuan province.
Sichuan Province, where infections with Streptococcus suis have been detected in pigs in a concurrent outbreak, has one of the largest pig populations in China. The outbreak in humans has some unusual features and is being closely followed by the WHO. To date, Chinese authorities say they have found no evidence of human-to-human transmission.
According to WHO, symptoms reported by local clinicians include high fever, malaise, nausea, and vomiting, followed by meningitis, subcutaneous haemorrhage, toxic shock, and coma in severe cases. The incubation period is short and disease progression is rapid.
Cases have since been reported in 11 prefectures in Sichuan Province. Most cases have occurred in adult male farmers. Information reported to WHO suggests that close contact with diseased or dead pigs is the principal source of human infection. Local experts are conducting active searches for further cases.
Diagnostic testing to further characterize the causative agent is recommended as an essential part of ongoing efforts to understand this outbreak, ensure its rapid containment, and prevent further deaths, WHO said.
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 the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) are being promptly informed of new developments.
WHO says that investigations conducted by Chinese epidemiologists indicate that the first human cases occurred at the end of June in Ziyang City, Sichuan Province. From 24 June through 21 July, authorities reported 20 cases of illness, of unknown cause, admitted to three hospitals in that city. The WHO was officially informed of the outbreak on 22 July, at which time 20 cases and 9 deaths had been reported.