BEIJING – Sichuan province in southwestern China has launched a campaign to educate farmers to take precautions against a pig-borne disease which has killed 32 people and infected 163.
More than 2 million notices have been issued urging farmers not to slaughter sick pigs or eat pork that might be infected, the China Daily reported on Saturday. It quoted Chen Nenggang, vice mayor of Ziyang near Sichuan’s provincial capital, Chengdu.
About 50,000 health workers and officials have been sent to the Ziyang area to inspect and register every pig, state media said, and they have set up 39 temporary roadside quarantine stations to stop dead pigs from reaching markets.
The affected areas have been sealed off, human and vehicle traffic strictly controlled, and the government has urged scientists to work on a vaccine for the disease, Agriculture Minister Du Qinglin has said.
Authorities say victims were suffering from Streptococcus suis bacteria, an infection contracted from slaughtering, handling or eating infected pigs.
The disease, first reported in Ziyang and nearby Neijiang, has spread to Chengdu itself and four other cities in Sichuan and one case has been reported in the southern province of Guangdong near Hong Kong.
Sichuan, the country’s top pork-producing province, has been forced to suspend all exports of chilled and frozen pork from Ziyang and Neijiang to Hong Kong.
Pork is China’s favourite meat and the country consumes more of it than anywhere else in the world.
Beijing and the southern boomtown of Shenzhen, bordering Hong Kong, banned pig and pork imports from Sichuan, newspapers said on Saturday.
The Chinese capital set up checkpoints and tightened screening on roads leading into the capital to block diseased pork and avert a health threat to its nearly 15 million residents.
Officials in Sichuan and Beijing have been tight-lipped about the outbreak, which the China Daily says was discovered on June 24.
The health ministry has said the rising numbers were the result of the discovery of previously unknown cases and did not necessarily mean the disease was spreading.
Streptococcus suis, swine flu in layman’s terms, is endemic in swine in most pig-rearing countries in the world but human infections are rare. Although China’s state media have said no human-to-human infections had been found in Sichuan, the death toll is considered unusually high.
Swine flu is not known ever to have been passed between humans, but scientists fear it could mutate into a bug that could easily pass among people, unleashing a deadly epidemic.