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Health Official Urges Public Calm over Disease

The Health Ministry has urged the country not to panic about the recent meningitis cases.

Executive Vice-Minister of Health Gao Qiang, said on Saturday the number of cases were "normal and sporadic" and "Chinese people need not panic."

"The cases are sporadic and no more severe than previous years at present," he said.

Of the 258 known cases in 28 provinces, autonomous regions and municipalities of China in January, 49 were found in 21 counties and districts of east China's Anhui Province, 30 cases in 23 counties and districts of central China's Henan Province, 19 cases in 17 counties and districts of north China's Hebei Province, and 16 cases respectively in Jiangsu and Sichuan provinces.

The remaining 128 were scattered across 23 provinces, autonomous regions and municipalities - with each reporting less than 10 cases, statistics released by the Health Ministry show.

Gao said the disease will not affect the ordinary activities of people during the upcoming Lunar New Year.

Official figures reveal that 2,250 meningitis cases were reported in 2001, 2,551 in 2002, 2,535 in 2003, and 2,698 in 2004.

"Although the total number of cases reported in January this year was higher than that of the same period in 2004, it was lower compared with the corresponding periods in 2003 and 2002," Gao said.

He also said China in recent years had maintained an annual infection rate of about two among 1 million people on average - lower than that of the United States and some European countries.

Cerebral-spinal meningitis is an acute infectious disease that spreads through the respiratory system.

China Daily quoted a health official, Deng Haihua, last week saying the disease is not as contagious as the flu or the common cold, which usually occurs during winter and spring.

Five students in east China's Anhui Province died because of the disease last month.

Besides, one patient suffering from acute meningitis in Changchun, capital of northeast China's Jilin Province, died in a local hospital on Thursday, Xinhua reported.

It is the first such case in this northeast China's province.

The provincial health bureau said that Ma Xiang, 34, developed the disease last Wednesday.

Jilin Provincial Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported Ma's case to the national CDC and is carrying out a seven-day countermeasure under which three people who had close contacts with Ma are monitored closely.

Other susceptible people from the same street where Ma used to live have been inoculated with meningitis vaccines, it said.

(China Daily February 7, 2005)

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