BEIJING (AP) _ An unidentified illness has killed 17 farmers and sickened 41 others in southwestern China after they butchered sick pigs or sheep, China's official news agency said Sunday.
Those affected had symptoms including high fever, fatigue, nausea and vomiting, and ``became comatose later with bruises under the skin,'' Xinhua news agency said.
Over the past four weeks, 58 people from areas around the cities of Ziyang and Neijiang in China's southwestern Sichuan province were hospitalized with such symptoms, Xinhua said.
Seventeen died, while 39 remain hospitalized and two have recovered, it said.
The report said that medical experts believe the illness ``is not spreading further among humans,'' and that there were ``no obvious signs of (an) epidemic.''
The report did not cite a suspected cause of the sickness, but authorities in Hong Kong has said earlier Sunday that Chinese authorities believe a bacterial infection might be responsible for the deaths.
World Health Organization spokesman Bob Dietz said the cases did not appear to be related to bird flu, a viral disease that has killed at least 57 people in Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia and Indonesia since 2003.
The son of one of the victims told Hong Kong's Cable TV his father fell ill after slaughtering and eating part of a sick pig. The names of the son and victim were not given.
Pigs in the area had been infected with streptococcus bacteria, which is common in domestic animals, a hospital worker treating the patients told Cable TV. It was unclear if the sick sheep in the area were infected with the same bacteria.