Unknown illness in China claimed 19 lives

Unknown disease supposedly caused by pigs killed 19 in China, 17 more people are reportedly in critical condition, but no person-to-person transmissions have been reported, China's Health Ministry said Tuesday.

A total of 80 infections have been discovered in Sichuan province in the past month, with victims suffering from high fever, bleeding under the skin and poisoning-related shock, the ministry said.

"According to research and lab test results, experts believe the disease is caused by streptococcus suis," a disease commonly carried by pigs, the ministry said in a statement. "People were infected because they slaughtered and processed sick and dead pigs."

The deaths had sparked fears of another outbreak of SARS or avian flu or that a new disease had evolved in China's south, which has been the breeding ground for diseases that jump between animals and humans living in close proximity, reports the AP.

The latest infections were spread throughout 75 villages and 40 towns near the cities of Ziyang and Neijiang, the ministry said.

"We are looking at not just a bacteria being active in one herd of pigs but over a fairly wide area, with isolated villages," said Bob Dietz, a spokesman for the World Health Organization's regional office in Manila. "Gathering information in that sort of situation is difficult."

While China has been open with information on the outbreak so far, WHO was keeping close watch on the situation.

Farmers have been forbidden to slaughter and process infected pigs, the Health Ministry said.

State television showed masked doctors at a hospital examining patients who were on intravenous drips.

Health officials in Sichuan wouldn't release details about the outbreak beyond confirming the number of dead and sick.

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