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TB Vaccinations Raise Safety Questions

Two students in central China's Hunan Province have contracted tuberculosis after being vaccinated against the disease, sparking fear among hundreds of parents.

Between 1999 and 2001, more than 2,000 primary and middle school students in Gaoping township of Longhui County were inoculated against TB. Two of the students, Yuan Longping and Wang Haiyan, were diagnosed with the disease late last year, said Yang Jian, head of the county's epidemic prevention station.

The two cases caused many parents in the area to worry about the safety of the vaccinations. Some said their children had running sores around the injection and often suffered from fevers, dizziness and sweating during sleep, the Guangdong newspaper New Express reported on Monday.

Longhui County health authorities sent investigators to the township and organized X-rays for the students from August 13, said Yang.

He said health workers have investigated around 1,000 local students who were vaccinated and found nine of them had large scars on their arms, indicating suppuration after receiving the vaccinations. Yang said the main cause of this problem was that doctors had injected the serum too deeply.

Yang said 21 of around 500 students X-rayed were found to have pathological changes such as shadows on their lungs.

"But we cannot determine immediately that the students have TB because catching a cold can lead to similar symptoms," Yang stated.

He said any persons diagnosed with TB can receive free treatment.

"Having a TB vaccine cannot cause TB, and the vaccine cannot prevent TB one hundred percent. But many people here do not have a full understanding of this," said Yang.

The New Express reported that a total of eight students in Gaoping township, accompanied by their parents, went to Guangzhou for lung examinations. Many other parents from the township also took their children to hospitals in Yunnan, Hubei and Sichuan provinces.

According to the World Health Organization, questions have been raised about the overall effectiveness of the Bacillus Camille Guerin (BCG vaccine) that is normally administered to prevent TB infection. Local reactions, ulcers and inflammation of the lymph nodes frequently occur if the vaccine is administered too deeply, says the WHO, and disseminated disease has been reported very rarely in immunocompromised individuals.

(China Daily, China.org.cn August 17, 2004)

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