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Beijing Campus TB Epidemic Denied

An Yansheng, head of the Beijing Center for Tuberculosis Prevention and Treatment, said on Tuesday there is no tuberculosis epidemic in Beijing-based China Agricultural University (CAU).

According to An, five CAU students confirmed to have tuberculosis are now receiving treatment.

"We have tested 550 students and no more cases have been found," said An. "It is not an epidemic."

CAU identified its first TB case on January 17, when a student in the Veterinary Department came to the campus clinic because of physical discomfort. He was diagnosed a week later.

Another student from the same department was diagnosed on March 7 after he returned from his hometown.

Ten days later, a third student, who was coughing up blood, was diagnosed with TB.

According to the university website, five cases have been confirmed: three infectious and two non-infectious. Three cases were from the Veterinary Department, one from the Agriculture and Biological Techniques Department and the other from the Resources and Environment Department.

But the rumor mill has cranked into high gear on campus. Students left messages on the school website saying there were actually more than 70 students in the Veterinary Department infected with TB and the university was trying to hide the fact. Students in other departments were scared to talk to those in the three departments with infections, the Beijing News reported.

"We want the university to tell us the truth, but no one explains what is going on," a student told the paper.

"We are not hiding anything," said Qian Xuejun, head of the university publicity department, "It should be the health authority, not the university, to state whether there is really an epidemic. We believe it is not serious and we don't want to arouse panic."

Accord to An, the university has been cooperating with the Haidian District TB prevention and control department and the municipal health authorities since the cases were found. In the first group of 90 students who had TB tests, 72 were "strongly positive," which means they were infected with the TB virus.

"Testing 'strongly positive' does not mean you have the disease. China has a high proportion of TB positive and the ratio in this university is still normal," said An.

The second group of students had the test in late March. An said there were no more cases found.

"The five students have been given medical treatment and are being monitored. Those who are strongly positive have been given preventive medicines. Everything is under control," An said.

The center found no specific source of the infection and cannot confirm that the five students transmitted the infection to each other.

For the most part, campus life goes on normally. "I have heard a bit of it, but my work is not affected at all," said Gu Xiaohong, a teacher in the English Department. "Most students in my department are not disturbed, and all classes are going on as usual. There have been no apparent measures taken by the university."

She Liu Yuqing, head of the Haidian TB Prevention and Treatment Department, said the rumors and worries come from ignorance about TB. "A lot of people do not know what TB is and how it is transferred among people. Few know the difference between being positive and having the disease. We should work harder to inform people."

An said, "We fear media reports might bring negative attention to this incident, but we also know the media can help us educate people. We hope the reports can clarify the case and kill the rumor."

Ninety percent of people infected with the TB virus have asymptomatic latent infection, with a 10 percent lifetime chance that it will progress to active TB disease.

According to the World Health Organization, if left untreated each person with active TB disease will infect on average between 10 and 15 people every year.

Infections can lie dormant for years, and while the percentage of those who develop the active disease is small, compromise of the immune system can increase the chances of becoming sick.

China reports an average of 1.4 million new TB cases a year, second only to India. Since implementing the DOTS prevention and care program in 1990, however, the incidence of the disease has dropped by about 30 percent.

(Xinhua News Agency, China.org.cn April 5, 2005)

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