Wellcome butcher catches pig disease

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 17 August, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 17 August, 2005, 12:00am

Third HK case in a month prompts call to extend import ban of mainland pork

A Wellcome supermarket butcher yesterday became the third local victim of the pig-borne disease Streptococcus suis in a month, bringing the number infected this year to nine and sparking calls for an extension of the government's ban on mainland pork imports.

The news came as at least two people in Suzhou , Jiangsu province , were suspected to have died from the virus.

At the same time, the Henan Animal Husbandry Bureau denied any outbreak of the disease in the province, after pro-Beijing newspaper Ta Kung Pao reported Shenzhen officials as saying they had banned imports of Henan pork because an outbreak had been confirmed there.

The Hong Kong government, which banned imports of frozen pork from Henan on Monday but still allows live imports, said it was still seeking information about the Shenzhen action.

A 44-year-old man admitted to Tuen Mun Hospital yesterday after developing a fever, pains in his right little finger and left thigh four days earlier was in stable condition last night after being confirmed as infected with Streptococcus suis.

The Centre for Health Protection said the man, who lives in Tin Shui Wai and works as a butcher at the Wellcome branch in Leung King Estate, Tuen Mun, had earlier cut his finger. He had not travelled recently outside Hong Kong.

Food and Environmental Hygiene Department officials went to the supermarket to check its handling procedures. Wellcome imports fresh pork from the mainland, including Henan, via sole trader Ng Fung Hong. No comment could be obtained from it last night.

Infectious disease specialist Lo Wing-lok said: 'If the butcher contracted the bacteria by handling pork, it means the public can do so too, and there's a good chance there are already people coming into contact with that pork.

'Now the government has evidence, they should ban imports of live pigs from Henan right away.'

Secretary for Health, Welfare and Food York Chow Yat-ngok said he was still seeking an explanation from Shenzhen on its ban after Guangdong health authorities found no traces of the bacteria in Henan pork seized at the weekend.

He said the government would strengthen communication with Guangdong and was ready to lift its ban once the Shenzhen government clarified the reason for the seizure. 'We still don't understand why the Shenzhen government had to recall the pork from Henan, we are very concerned about it.'

Legislator Emily Lau Wai-hing of The Frontier said the government should expand the notification mechanism with Guangdong to cover food for the province's domestic market.

'It would be mutually beneficial as people from the delta region could then be informed by our press if anything goes wrong in their markets,' she said.