The death toll from the pig-borne endemic in southwest China's Sichuan Province had reached 36 by Monday noon, with two new deaths reported since the previous day, according to the Ministry of Health yesterday.
Although no new infections were reported, 17 more people who had already contracted the disease were identified since midday on Sunday. Of them, 14 were confirmed and 3 suspected, said the ministry.
The province has so far reported 198 human cases of Streptococcus suis II infections, 145 of which have been confirmed and 53 suspected.
Eighteen people have been discharged from hospital and 30 others are in critical condition.
The first person thought to have been infected was hospitalized in late June and cases have since been reported in nine cities of Sichuan. These include Ziyang, Jianyang, Neijiang and the provincial capital Chengdu, but the other affected areas were not disclosed. The authorities have stated that all patients had direct contact with ill or dead pigs.
Two other cases have been reported in the south of the country in the last few weeks, one each in Guangdong Province and Hong Kong, but whether they are related to the Sichuan outbreak is not yet clear.
The Guangdong patient, diagnosed in Chao'an County on July 27, was released from hospital over the weekend and the one in Hong Kong, hospitalized on June 16, is in a stable condition.
Lin Shaorong, professor at South China Agricultural University, said the situation in Guangdong is likely to remain under control because it has had a long history of outbreaks of similar strains, so there is much experience of dealing with them.
The WHO said yesterday that the authorities have been diligent in supplying information on the situation through daily updates.
Hong Kong health representatives disputed speculation by some WHO officials that the outbreak may have been caused by a combination of bacteria and toxins, and said the 30 Sichuan cases examined are a large enough sample to draw conclusions from.
Extensive information from field investigations has been posted on the Chinese version of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention's website.
In a related development, the Chinese Academy of Inspection and Quarantine (CAIQ) announced yesterday it has developed a testing method for pig infections.
"Compared with current testing methods, which take up to four days and sometimes fail to detect the bacteria, the new technique can find all strains of Streptococcus suis in a pig in four hours," said the CAIQ's Han Xueqing, adding that it can also differentiate between strains.
Wang Daning, CAIQ president, said he expected the technique to be employed by all quarantine branches nationwide over the next week and that it could be used to ensure meat sent to markets is free from infection.
The CAIQ is a rapid-response task force under the General Administration of Quality Supervision, Inspection and Quarantine.
(Xinhua News Agency , China Daily August 2, 2005)