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Health experts hope to find out how a rare, and rarely fatal, bacterial infection killed 38 people and more than 600 pigs in China's Sichuan province in the past two months. They fear that a new form of an existing bacterium known as Streptococcus suis has emerged, and could strike again.

With 204 human cases, the Chinese outbreak of Streptococcus suis is the largest ever. Understanding it, and the bacterium that caused it, will require international collaborations, say researchers at the World Health Organization.

They have been reviewing information from China's Ministry of Health. But so far, the Chinese Ministry of Agriculture has not clarified how many pigs died or were culled, nor how they were farmed.

There is no evidence of human-to-human transmission, and no indication that the bacterium, which is endemic among domestic pigs and usually causes no symptoms, has mutated.

In addition to the Sichuan outbreak, a further four human cases of the disease, including one death, have been reported in the Guandong province.

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