HONG KONG – Chinese authorities have banned local reporters from visiting areas where an outbreak of a pig-borne disease has killed 34 farmers, ordering newspapers to use dispatches from the state news agency, a Hong Kong (search) newspaper reported Sunday.
A total of 174 confirmed or suspected cases have been linked to the bacteria streptococcus suis in China's southwestern Sichuan (search) province, where farmers who handled or butchered infected pigs have been sickened in dozens of villages and towns. Symptoms include nausea, fever, vomiting, and bleeding under the skin.
Sichuan authorities have ordered local journalists to stay away from locations where the disease surfaced, and told newspapers to instead carry stories as issued by the official Xinhua News Agency, including the headline, Hong Kong's Ming Pao Daily News (search) reported.
Calls to Sichuan's provincial government headquarters in Chengdu seeking confirmation of the media ban went unanswered.
Beijing was heavily criticized during its SARS (search) outbreak for its reluctance to release information. A Sichuan journalist, quoted by the Ming Pao newspaper, said Hong Kong reporters were better informed than they were about the pig disease.
Former British colony Hong Kong, which returned to Chinese rule in 1997, isn't subject to China's media controls under a special autonomy arrangement. Much of the information about the disease has been filtering out through Hong Kong, which is briefed by China about health threats.
Hong Kong is wary about diseases spreading here from China, especially after severe acute respiratory syndrome killed 299 people in the territory in 2003 and devastated the economy.
The first cases of the pig-borne disease outbreak appeared in the city of Ziyang and elsewhere in Sichuan. The first case outside the province was reported Saturday in Guangdong (search), a southern Chinese province neighboring Hong Kong. Hong Kong has also reported 11 cases of the disease since May 2004, but it wasn't clear if they were related to the Sichuan outbreak.