02/02/2005, 00.00
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Meningitis scare during Chinese New Year

Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) – The fear of a possible meningitis outbreak is spreading across China at a time when millions of people are getting ready to travel for the Lunar New Year festivities.

In Jiangsu and Anhui provinces respectively 15 and 62 cases have already been reported. Overall 258 cases have been confirmed with 16 deaths.

Meningitis is an aerobic virus that can be contracted by breathing infected air.

Fear of contagion is high because the Lunar New Year holidays traditionally see millions of people on the move. China's Railway Ministry estimates that 145 people will travel by train alone between now and March 5 when New Year celebrations will come to an end.

Han Darong, director of the Ministry of Railways' Labour and Health Department, said 4,000 employees will be deployed to patrol stations and trains.

In Guangzhou, Railway Station staff are checking passengers' temperatures. Anyone with a temperature over 38 degrees Celsius will be sent to hospital.

The railway health department will report infection numbers each week to the ministry.

With 62 reported cases, Anhui is the most affected province. More than three-quarters of sufferers are students aged 13 to 18 and provincial authorities blame schools for not quickly reporting the cases. "The delay has negatively influenced disease-control efforts," the provincial Health Department reported.

Tibet, Fujian and Hainan are the only provinces spared so far. In Hainan, health authorities are vaccinating all children under 10.

At the national level, the Education Ministry has not taken any preventive measures at schools.

Asked about preventive measures in middle and primary schools, a ministry spokesman referred the question to the Ministry of Health.

For the time being, the central government is not concerned by vaccine shortage. Lanzhou Bio-product, the country's only manufacturer, in Lanzhou, is able to meet demand. It produces a vaccine for all three strains of meningitis (A, B and C) which have shown up in people.

Deputy Health Minister Gao Qiang announced that the government has allocated US$ 1.3 billion to set up a health prevention and control system for this Lunar New Year.

China's GDP (Gross Domestic Product) is US$ 1.37 trillion.



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