China admits to the extent of pig disease

China has, for the first time admitted to the number of pigs which have been killed by a deadly bacteria. The bacteria, Streptococcus suis, or Swine flu, has also claimed the lives of at least 38 people, and made over a hundred sick, who slaughtered, handled or ate the infected animals.

In total, the official Xinhua agency has reported that 644 pigs in the southwestern Sichuan province have died from disease.

The agency insists however that the number of pigs affected by the epidemic, which China says has been brought under control, is falling daily.

Although the outbreak was first reported in June, in the country's top pork-producing province, it did not surface in the Chinese media until almost a month later.

In the town of Ziyang, where the epidemic is thought to have originated, two officials were sacked for failing to inform farmers of the dangers of the disease, and the national government has vowed to punish anyone who falsifies or delays reports on the bacteria.

An official was also stripped of his license for failing to prevent three dead pigs from being shipped to neighbouring Chongqing.

There are now strict quarantine controls in the area.

Microbe expert Li Mingyuan is quoted by Xinhua as saying, the overuse of antibiotics may have been behind the outbreak, by allowing the disease to mutate into a new, drug-resistant strain.

Pork is China's favourite meat and the country consumes more of it than any other nation.

The government now plans to produce enough vaccine to inoculate 10 million pigs.

The outbreak has forced Sichuan to suspend all exports of chilled and frozen pork from Ziyang and surrounding Neijiang prefecture, to Hong Kong, where a second resident has contracted the disease.

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