China takes measures against mysterious disease

The number of people infected with a pig-borne disease in southwest China's Sichuan province rose to 181 after seven more cases were reported. The death toll remained at 34. Hong Kong will take new measures to stop the spread of the disease.

Over 180 people have been infected with Streptococcus suis, a form of swine flu, in China's southwestern Sichuan province since June. The Hong Kong government ordered pig farms in the city to strictly observe hygiene standards and to dispose of pig carcasses properly in designated areas. Those caught flouting the rules would be fined HK$25,000 (US$3,200) and jailed for up to six months.

"They have to disinfect the carcasses and wrap them properly using double-layer plastic bags," a government spokeswoman was quoted as saying by Reuters.

Officials were also discussing whether to classify swine flu a "notifiable infectious disease", which would require all local doctors to report such cases to the government.

While China has suspended exports of Sichuan pork to Hong Kong, the outbreak has unnerved the territory after authorities said last week that two local men had contracted the bacterial infection.

Neither man had travelled outside of Hong Kong immediately prior to their falling ill and health authorities are still investigating how they contracted the disease. One has been discharged and the other is still in hospital.

"One of them is a renovation worker, who would probably have minor cuts on his hands, the other goes to the market and cooks regularly, so he might have had contact with raw, infected pork," said a government spokesman.

Though endemic in swine, human infections of Streptococcus suis are rare.

The illness is believed to be streptococcus suis, a bacteria carried by pigs, the government said. The outbreak has affected mostly pig farmers and butchers. The central government sent senior health officials, including Health Minister Gao Qiang, to the areas. Gao said the outbreak remains serious, though it's easing, state-run Xinhua News Agency reported Sunday, citing a Sichuan Daily newspaper report.

China is the world's largest pork producer, with most pig farming done in Sichuan and the northern province of Henan. Chinese authorities suspended exports of pork products from Sichuan because of the outbreak. Other authorities including the Hong Kong government and the World Health Organization are monitoring developments.

Yongshun Biomedical Co., based in the southern provincial capital of Guangzhou, shipped the first batch of vaccines yesterday for streptococcus swine type II, enough for 350,000 pigs, to Sichuan's capital of Chengdu, Xinhua reported yesterday, citing Chairman Wu Weirui.

Yongshun plans to produce vaccines for 10 million pigs, the report said. The drugs have to be injected twice within a 15-day period, giving the pigs an immunization period of more than four months, Xinhua said.

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