Health Deadly disease outbreak linked to commercial breeding of piglets

Deadly disease outbreak linked to commercial breeding of piglets

The source of an unprecedented outbreak of streptococcal disease in China has been pinned down with the help of UNSW.

More than 200 people became ill and 39 died in the Chinese province of Sichuan in June 2005 from infection with a highly virulent strain of the bacterium Streptococcus suis, which is found in pigs.

“The source of the deadly strain that caused the outbreak was unknown until now,” says Associate Professor Ruiting Lan of the UNSW School of Biotechnology and Molecular Sciences.

The researchers used genome sequencing and evolutionary dating to examine samples of the bacterium from patients and diseased pigs. They found that, to increase pork production, commercial breeders used imported pig breeds rather than local ones and then supplied the infected piglets widely to farmers, who raised them under poor hygienic conditions in their backyards.

“This combination of practices created a major threat to public health, significantly increasing the risk of a very large disease outbreak,” Associate Professor Lan said. “The outbreak was an unforeseen consequence of China’s economic development.”

The study involved researchers in China from the State Key Laboratory for Infectious Disease Prevention and Control and The National Institute for Communicable Disease Control and Prevention, the Chinese Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, and The Institute of Remote Sensing and Digital Earth.

Read more about the researchers’ scientific sleuthing here. Story credit: UNSW newsroom.

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