N-American case of pig meningitis in humans
US scientists have confirmed the first reported case of
pig meningitis in a human being in North America.
The unlucky pioneer is a healthy 59-year-old farmer in
the state of New York, complaining of sudden fever and confusion. His pulse was
racing, he breathed rapidly and he had meningitis,
an inflammation of the membranes covering the brain and spinal
The hospital's preliminary tests revealed the presence of Streptococcus
suis, a bacteria prevalent in pigs that
can lead to meningitis.
"This should heighten awareness of the possibility of this
illness for people with the occupation of dealing with swine," said Kara
Willenburg, MD, of Bassett Hospital. "But it should not affect the lives of the
Farmers can contract the disease from handling pigs
and their faeces. Butchers are also at risk. Washing hands and cooking pork
thoroughly can minimise risk.
Ruth Zadoks, research associate and veterinarian
at Cornell University's College of Veterinary Medicine, provided the insights
and a DNA-level analysis of S. suis strains found in both
the farmer and pigs from his farm.
With the farmer's bacterial cultures and the pig samples, Zadoks confirmed
that the patient was indeed infected with S. suis.
"Even though we did
not match the human strain with those of the pigs, the strain from the farmer
matches superficially a strain found in both pigs and humans in Denmark and the
Netherlands," said Zadoks. "Some strains are more likely to cause disease in
Europe and Asia
S. suis has occasionally jumped
to humans in Europe over the last 20 years. However, people have regularly
contracted the disease in South East Asia, especially China where a 2005
outbreak resulted in 204 human cases with 38 deaths, and some 600 pigs killed.
In 2005, South America also documented its first case from
"It could be that the disease is spreading," said Zadoks.
"But also we may be just better at recognising it."
All human cases of S. suis have originated with an animal infecting a
human. Public health officials have no fears that the pig bacteria will spread
from one human to another.
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