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First analysis of recent disease outbreak in China

Last year, there was major press coverage of an alarmingly large and deadly outbreak of Streptococcus suis disease in Sichuan province in China (see http://www.who.int/csr/don/2005_08_03/en/). Now George Gao, Yu Wang, Jiaqi Tang, Xiaoning Wang and colleagues from the Chinese Academy of Sciences, the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, and other Chinese institutions publish the first scientific description of the outbreak in the international open-access journal PLoS Medicine.

S. suis is a pathogen with serious economic effects on the pig industry world-wide. The disease is endemic in adult pigs in most countries where pig farming is common. Infections in adult pigs are usually asymptomatic, but infant piglets that get infected through contact with colonized adult females can develop fatal sepsis.

Transmission to humans is rare and generally restricted to individuals with occupational exposure to live or dead pigs. The first human case of S. suis infection was reported in Denmark in 1968. Most of the 200 or so previously reported human cases were characterized by meningitis and septicemia; fewer than 1 in 10 infected humans died.

The recent Sichuan outbreak, in contrast, affected over 200 individuals and killed 38 of them. Besides the large number of infected individuals and the high mortality rate, it was the clinical symptoms associated with this outbreak that attracted interest and worry from scientists and health officials worldwide when the outbreak was first reported.

As Tang and colleagues detail in their article, a large proportion of the infected individuals (including all but one of the patients who died) showed symptoms of Streptococcal toxic shock syndrome (STSS), which had not previously been observed in patients infected with S. suis. However, as Tang and colleagues show, the pathogen in the recent outbreak (as well as in an earlier outbreak in
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Contact: Andrew Hyde
ahyde@plos.org
44-122-346-3330
Public Library of Science
10-Apr-2006


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