The Ministry of Health gave reassurances on Tuesday that the current type C meningitis outbreak in China is "controllable."
No new infections or deaths had been reported, though sixteen people were confirmed to have died so far. "There is no reason to panic," said Deng Haihua, a ministry official.
The deaths of eight students from the eastern province of Anhui last month attracted intense attention from the public and authorities.
Type C meningitis, an acute bacterial disease that spreads via the respiratory system, is not as contagious as the flu or common cold, and usually peaks in winter and spring, said Deng.
Immunization programs against type A meningitis have been in place since 1984, but are not effective against type C, which is more contagious, develops more rapidly and has a higher death rate. A type C vaccine is produced by a manufacturer in Lanzhou, capital of northwest China's Gansu Province.
Health authorities had previously stressed the importance of early reporting, isolation and treatment, as this greatly improves the likelihood of recovering and preventing new infections.
According to Xinhua News Agency, cases have been reported across the Chinese mainland but not in China's Tibet Autonomous Region and the provinces of Fujian and Hainan.
There has been a gradual increase in meningitis incidence nationwide from 2,250 in 2001 to 2,698 in 2004, but January's 258 cases were 57 percent up on the same period last year.
In the capital, the first batch of type C vaccines are expected to arrive in the next two days, said Li Guoying, at the Beijing Municipal Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
With Spring Festival coming up, the health ministry has issued a general appeal to prevent further spread of the disease. The festival, the Chinese Lunar New Year, involves a great deal of traveling across the country as families come together to celebrate.
No meningitis cases have yet been found among travelers, a Ministry of Railways press official named Li said, "We have urged local railway administrations to organize disease prevention squads to strengthen decontamination measures in stations and on trains."
But she added that these were normal precautions taken at this time of year, and not specifically targeted at meningitis. In the next month, about 145 million people are expected to travel by rail for family reunions.
On Tuesday, the General Administration of Civil Aviation of China called on airlines and airports to take concrete measures to stop the disease spreading via air travel.
The Ministry of Education has also pressed local education departments to take action to prevent further infections among students.
(China Daily February 2, 2005)