Genetic Change Helped Pig Microbe Kill 38 Chinese

CHINA - A bacterium that rarely infects people but last year killed 38 in China is likely to have mutated into a more deadly form, according to the first study of the outbreak.
calendar icon 13 April 2006
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"The finding shows that there is potential for a pandemic," says lead author Tang Jiaqi of the Research Institute for Medicine of Nanjing Command, China, whose work is published in PLoS Medicine today (11 April).

The microbe Streptococcus suis is found in pigs worldwide, and usually only causes disease in piglets. Occasionally it infects farm workers who come into close contact.

But last year more than 200 people were infected in a major outbreak in Sichuan province, and nearly one in five of them died.

Despite no evidence of direct transmission between people, other features of the outbreak raised concern among researchers.

Until last year, only 200 human cases had been reported since 1968, and fewer than ten per cent died from the infection.


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