About 36 people have died in China after eating or handling pigs infectected with a mysterious diease, and there are now 198 more confirmed cases, reports Hridyesh Pandey.
Most of the cases have been reported in or around the cities of Ziyang and Neijiang, but the disease has spread to five other towns in Sichuan, including the provincial capital, Chengdu.
It is thought to be caused by the bacteria Streptococcus suis.
However the World Health Organisation (WHO) said that while clinical diagnosis of the disease in Sichuan seems to be consistent with past outbreaks, it was puzzled by the high number of people falling ill.
The high mortality rate and reports that many of the victims died within 24 hours of showing symptoms have led some experts to wonder if it has mutated into a strain that can easily pass among people, presenting a threat of an epidemic.
"Prevention workers and local officials need to strengthen inspection work and prevent the slaughter, sale or transport of sick or dead pigs," said a statement on the health ministry's website .
So far, Beijing has banned the sale of about 4000 tonnes of frozen pork and pork products already in stock from the south-western province where the pig-borne disease was first found in June.
The government has also banned illegal butchering, prohibiting the buying and serving of pork that has not been quarantined.
It is calling on farmers have to strictly observe hygiene standards and to dispose of pig carcasses in properly designated areas although reports suggest that not all those in rural areas are adhering to the rules.