Probe over deaths of pig farmers widens

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 30 December, 2006, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 30 December, 2006, 12:00am

Two workers at HK slaughterhouse are revealed as victims of pneumonia

Two new pneumonia cases, with both victims from the Sheung Shui slaughterhouse, were revealed yesterday as health officials are battling to have a postmortem examination carried out on a Hong Kong pig farmer to establish if his death was related to two others.

A 61-year-old slaughterhouse worker was admitted to North District Hospital yesterday and was in a stable condition.

A 42-year-old safety supervisor at the same slaughterhouse was admitted to hospital for pneumonia in mid-September and had been discharged early last month. The man, who had no direct contact with pigs, has recovered. The second case was among seven reported on the government hotline, 2125 1133, set up on Thursday so pig farmers can report if they had contracted pneumonia in the past six months.

The Centre for Health Protection is still investigating the cause of death of the three earlier cases, two from Hong Kong and one from Guangdong.

A 44-year-old pig farmer, surnamed Sin, died from pneumonia this month, as did another farmer, surnamed Yip, 62, in June. They visited the mainland before their deaths - Sin went to Dongguan and Yip visited Shenzhen.

A pig farmer from Nanhai in Foshan , Guangdong, also died from pneumonia on Tuesday. Both Sin and the mainland farmer tested negative for Sars and bird flu.

Centre controller Leung Pak-yin yesterday said a postmortem examination would provide important information. 'If there is one, we can look at the pathology of the lung tissues and find out more about the disease. We are still in discussions with the family,' he said. Sin's funeral is to take place next week.

If an autopsy could be done on the body more tests would help to locate the viruses causing the pneumonia, said Thomas Tsang Ho-fai, the Centre for Health Protection consultant.

Speaking after meeting other government departments to discuss the investigation, Dr Tsang said the investigation would take a month or more. However, initial findings showed the two local cases may not be linked and the centre had less than a 50 per cent chance of identifying the viruses.

The centre yesterday told public and private doctors to report hospital admissions involving pig farmers diagnosed with pneumonia.

The centre will hold a seminar for pig farmers on the latest situation.

Chan Kin-yip, chairman of the association for development of the pig rearing industry, said pig farmers were not particularly scared.

The Nanhai District Centre for Disease Control and Prevention said it had begun questioning the family of the dead farmer on Thursday after reading media reports.

Guo Zhihua , 48, came down with a fever and cough on December 16 and was admitted to Foshan No 1 People's Hospital four days later. He died last Tuesday from what the hospital described as serious pneumonia. '[The cause of death] was confirmed by our Foshan experts,' a hospital worker said yesterday.