A leading researcher of Streptococcus suis has become the first foreign specialist invited to the mainland to study the deadly outbreak linked to the pig-borne bacteria in Sichuan province.
Marcelo Gottschalk runs the International Reference Laboratory for identifying S. suis at the University of Montreal.
He said his unit is one of three world-class labs studying the bacteria and, to the best of his knowledge, the only one invited to collaborate with mainland laboratories to identify the current outbreak.
Gottschalk was invited to China Monday by Xu Jianguo, director of Streptococcus
research at the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
Last week Gottschalk told The Standard he was worried about the outbreak in the mainland and Hong Kong.
He said S. suis infections of humans are not uncommon, but the recent cases are far more severe than before. Instead of having meningitis, which is the typical symptom, the victims have toxic shock.
This, combined with a 15 percent higher mortality rate, raises concerns that S. suis has merged with other strains to create a more virulent disease, Gottschalk said.
On Tuesday, a 62-year-old woman became the 11th person infected by the bacteria in Hong Kong this year. The mainland outbreak infected more than 200 people of whom 40 died. An unidentified victim became the latest fatality when he died in a Guangdong hospital Wednesday.
Gottschalk said he will not be going to China since he is expected at the Lancefield International Symposium on Streptococci & Streptococcal Diseases in Cairns, Australia, at the end of September. The swine disease expert said his former student Mariela Segura and immunologist Zhong Su are better suited to help in China and will take his place.
"Segura is an immunologist and an expert on the inflammatory reaction caused by S.suis. She is the ideal person to work on this,'' Gottschalk said.
Zhong Su, originally from China, has extensive experience in inflammation. Both he and Segura work at McGill University's Center for the Study of Host Resistance at Montreal General Hospital.
Gottschalk said Su and Segura will leave for Beijing at the end of September and will stay there for two to three weeks.
Earlier, Gottschalk said he didn't think China was capable of identifying the strain on its own. Director Xu has not been available to comment as numerous requests to speak with him have not been granted by China's Ministry of Health.
Gottschalk is optimistic now that the Chinese have agreed to collaborate with his team. "I believe this is a significant advancement to prevent future cases if we are dealing with a more virulent strain,'' Gottschalk said.