News 598 views last update:Oct 7, 2008

Oz: Piggery workers contract heart infection

Two piggery workers in Australia have survived a potentially deadly disease of the heart valves after contracting a bug from pigs which were bound for the abattoir.

A 46-year-old woman and a 58-year-old man were treated at Canberra Hospital, for fevers, sweating and severe weight loss caused by endocarditis, a serious condition where bacteria settle on the heart valves and spread infection throughout the body. The woman required a heart valve replacement to survive.

The bacterium, Streptococcus suis, is common in pigs and can transfer to humans through contact with live or dead pigs, though exactly how is unknown. Only two cases had previously been reported in Australia, one in 1993 and a second in April last year, when a Melbourne meat processor, 41, developed toxic shock syndrome from it.

Paul Seale, a professor of clinical pharmacology at Sydney University, said the cases should serve as a warning. "We need occupational health and safety experts to go into these piggeries and rigorously examine ways in which the workers can be better protected from this exposure before it happens again."

It has taken a heavy toll in the industry, most recently in 2005, when 215 Chinese butchers and meat processors became infected, killing more than half of them.

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