Health Official Disputes Mad Pig Claims

Although the government is right to test pork for disease, pork lovers should not let rumors of so-called mad pig disease taint their Lunar New Year celebrations, a World Health Or­gan­ization official said Sunday.

“We don’t know of any disease called mad pig disease,” said Bill Pigott, head of WHO’s Cambodia office. “I think you better be careful how you say it.”

The term “mad pig disease” has been commonly used to describe the Nipah virus, a fatal form of encephalitis contracted through contact with a pig’s bodily fluids.

Rumors of an outbreak from smuggled Thai pigs led Prime Minister Hun Sen last week to warn against eating pork.

Samples from Thai pigs were sent to the Pasteur Institute in Phnom Penh for an­alysis, Health Minister Hong Sun Huot said.

Although test results were still pending, the government ban­ned Thai pork, the minister said. Officials also were inspecting pork at local markets to make sure vendors had certified meat. Vendors who did not have a certificate had their pork confiscated.

Even if there is no threat from the Nipah virus, diseases such as trichinosis are contracted by eating pork, so the government should test pigs, Pigott said.

The Web site for the US Centers for Disease Control states that the Nipah virus broke out in Malaysia in late 1998 and early 1999, killing at least 105 people. Of the 258 people infected with the virus, most of them worked in slaughterhouses, the CDC said.

There have been no reported cases of Nipah since early 1999, Pigott said. Moreover, the disease does not appear to be transmitted by eating pork.

“There are no known cases of people catching it from eating pork,” Pigott said.

Mad pig disease borrows its name from so-called mad cow disease, officially known as bovine spongiform encephalitis. It results from feeding infected cow parts to other cows, and can be passed to humans by eating beef.

Mad cow disease, however, is a long-term disease, while the Ni­pah virus is severe but not chronic. Both have different origins and pathologies, Pigott said.

“It’s very important not to confuse the Nipah virus with mad cow disease,” Pigott said.

Hun Sen’s warning caused local pork sales to plummet — by as much as 75 percent some vendors reported late last week.

“The government’s announcement is killing us,” said a Phsar Kandal vendor last week.


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