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China probably 'covered up' pig disease outbreaks

File chart showing pig population densities across Asia.
by Staff Writers
Beijing (AFP) Aug 20, 2007
Local authorities may have covered up outbreaks of a disease that has killed tens of thousands of pigs in China, the nation's chief vet said Monday, but insisted there was no cause for panic.

The highly infectious blue-ear pig disease has killed 68,000 pigs across China and led to another 175,000 being slaughtered, Jia Youling, chief veterinary officer at the Ministry of Agriculture, told reporters.

Some Western press reports have said the number of infected pigs is much higher than disclosed government figures, citing the dramatic spike in pork prices in China this year as evidence.

"Although there may be some cover-ups (by local authorities), it is absolutely impossible (that) the figure could be as big as... millions or 10 million as reported by the media," Jia said.

"Panic was caused because people didn't know (it was) blue-ear disease and had no idea how to deal with it. But it doesn't mean the number of infected pigs is huge."

Jia said that an effective blue ear vaccine had been developed and distributed to the regions most seriously hit, and that the spread of the disease was now under "preliminary control."

He said more than 100 million pigs had been vaccinated.

"So far, no blue-ear disease has been found in places that have done the vaccination."

Jia said China last year had 500 million pigs, the staple meat in most Chinese diets, in stock.

China was heavily criticised in 2003 for initially covering up the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, which originated in the south of the country.

SARS crossed over from animals into humans, eventually killing more than 800 people worldwide.

A China-based adviser to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation, Guo Fusheng, told AFP that the official tally of infected pigs was probably not accurate, but that there was little risk to humans.

"Since in the 1980s, when the disease was found in America, Europe and other places in the world, not a single case has been found to have spread to human beings," Guo said.

"And no other animals have been infected by the blue-ear disease except pigs."

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