Chinese Pigs - Under Viral Attack

As a mysterious epidemic kill pigs in south-eastern China, Chinese officials are only providing little information about the disease or a contaminated wheat gluten that has been known to cause death and illness in the animals. Thus reviving longstanding questions about whether China is willing to share information about health and food safety issues with potentially global implications.

The virus was probably linked to a reproductive and respiratory condition known as blue-eared pig disease, the ministry said in a statement on its website.

"This disease spreads especially fast during the summer," the ministry said, citing the hot and humid weather of the season.

The agriculture ministry requires veterinary departments to stay on high alert for the disease and immediately report suspect cases.

"Once the virus mutates, it will become more pathogenic and more difficult to cure," the ministry warned.

A major problem are the poor breeding conditions as most farmers tend to raise their pigs in open places, and pens are poorly equipped with anti-epidemic measures, the ministry said.

The frequent transportation of live pigs might also facilitate the spread of the disease, it said.

More than 300 pigs in Guangdong province died late April as a result of a secondary bacterial infection by the virus, the China Daily reported earlier.

The virus entered China from overseas in the mid-1990s and had recently showed signs of mutation, the report said.

Experts say it cannot spread from animals to people.

Tests for the disease are available and a vaccine has received government approval and is to be distributed soon, the statement said.

The agriculture ministry has already urged increased vaccinations for swine fever, pig rash and swine pneumonia and called on animal medical factories to step up production of medicines.

Dead pigs have been buried deep underground and far from sources of water.

The China Daily said the provincial agriculture authority has called for strict measures to ensure sterilisation, vaccination and supervision to avert further outbreaks.

The disease caused a panic in local areas as residents stopped buying pork for fear of eating tainted meat.

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