Swine flu numbers still rising, but China insists disease is under control

Although the number of people now infected by the deadly swine flu in China has risen to 18, health authorities are playing down the impact, and are still insisting that they have the outbreak under control.

The killer disease, is contracted from slaughtering, handling or eating infected pigs.

By midday on Sunday the death toll stood at 34 after confirmed or suspected cases of the swine flu, had been reported in 102 villages in the southwestern province of Sichuan.

The Health Ministry says that although the number of infections had risen by seven but no deaths were reported.

According to the China Daily, who were apparently quoting the Health ministry, the prompt reporting of the disease, and the experience gained by doctors, has meant fewer people are dying from the disease.

Local media says that officials continue to insist they are becoming better prepared and more experienced in controlling the outbreak.

A health official in Ziyang city, where the outbreak was first reported in June, has apparently said that the rates of new infections and deaths have dropped and the outbreak is under control.

Chinese reporters say they are no longer able to visit affected areas and have been told to use Xinhua reports.

Sichuan which is the country's top pork-producing province, has been forced to suspend all exports of chilled and frozen pork from Ziyang and surrounding Neijiang prefecture to Hong Kong, where another resident has contracted the disease.

This case was the second local case in two months and raises to 11 the number of infections reported to city authorities since May 2004.

Cases have also been reported from the southern province of Guangdong, neighbouring Hong Kong.

Pork is China's favourite meat and the country consumes more of it than anywhere else in the world.

Of 618 million pigs slaughtered in 2004, Sichuan accounted for about 14 percent.

It is reported that vaccine for a total of 10 million pigs is being produced to combat the disease and the first batch for 350,000 pigs, has been sent to Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan.

A campaign has been launched in Sichuan to educate poor, illiterate farmers and their children not to slaughter sick pigs or eat their meat, and more than 2 million notices have been issued in affected areas informing farmers of the dangers.

The China Daily quoted a Ziyang communist party official as saying that they might educate youngsters at school and get them to pass on the information to their families.

It is a sad fact, but most low-income farmers are not prepared to bury dead pigs after spending money on piglets, inoculations and feed.

They would prefer to slaughter sick pigs and eat the meat themselves, than bury the carcasses covered in disinfectant at their own expense.

The Chongqing Times has reported the sacking of two officials in Ziyang last week for failing to inform local farmers of the dangers of swine flu.

The newspaper said a health inspector was also sacked for failing to conduct inspections himself, sitting in his car while farmers checked their pigs.

As many as 50,000 health workers and officials are now working in affected areas to inspect and register every pig, and authorities have set up 39 temporary roadside quarantine stations to stop dead pigs from reaching markets.

However according to the China Daily, the government will not compensate farmers whose livestock have died from the disease.

Although swine flu is endemic in most pig-rearing countries, human infections are rare. China's state media have said no human-to-human infections had been found in Sichuan, but the death toll is considered unusually high.

To date swine flu has never been known 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.


The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
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