A national program is being drafted to contain the rapid expansion of snail fever within four or five years, officials said.
Various measures will be taken, such as more strict investigations of infection sources and protecting people susceptible to the disease.
The program is being designed by the Snail Fever Control and Prevention Office of the Yangtze River Water Resources Commission, based in Wuhan, capital city of Central China's Hubei Province, said Director of the office Peng Yun.
Meanwhile, efforts will be made to strengthen research into medical treatments and prevention methods, including vaccines, and improvements of surveillance of the epidemic, Peng said.
The program is expected to be completed before August of this year and large-scale investigations on the snail fever situation in China is under way in regions along the Yangtze River, said official sources.
Carried by freshwater snails, acute snail fever, or schistosomiasis, is a parasitic disease that attacks the blood and liver in humans.
It can be fatal over time.
Chronic patients, who account for most who contract the disease, can experience high fever, weakness of the limbs and severe stiffness of the joints, and lose ability.
More than 843,000 Chinese were infected with snail fever last year, up from 810,000 in 2002.
And the number of acute snail fever patients last year was 1,114, an increase of 22 per cent from 2002.
Among the acute patients, 51 per cent are school children, according to Zhou Xiaonong, deputy director of Shanghai-based National Institute for Parasitic Disease Control and Prevention.
Hubei and Hunan, two provinces along the Yangtze River, have the most serious snail fever epidemics in the country.
Hubei reported a total of 295,000 patients in 2003, said Yu Binggui, director of Office for Snail Fever Control and Prevention of the province.
The province earmarked 40 million yuan (US$4.8 million) for control and prevention in 2004.
Snail fever was effectively controlled before the 1980s in the world's most populous country.
However, the ignorance surrounding prevention of the infectious disease and a laggard public health system in the past 20 years have caused a resurgence.
Between 2002 and 2003, snail grounds grew by 268 million square meters, Zhou said.
Some regions previously free of the illness have seen snail fever spread. Some 38 counties which claimed to have controlled the disease have also seen a hike in the past five years, Zhou told China Daily.
Besides Hunan and Hubei, the regions where the disease is not effectively controlled include East China's Jiangsu, Anhui and Jiangxi provinces, and Southwest China's Yunnan and Sichuan provinces, Zhou said.
Peng said different regions will adopt different measures.
In Yunnan and Sichuan provinces, where the disease can be found mostly in mountains, emphasis must be given to preventing people from becoming infected by tainted irrigation water
Meanwhile, in other areas located along the Yangtze River, more work should be done to curb the rapid spread of snail infestations, which can be easily created by frequent floods along the valley, Peng noted.
(China Daily June 14, 2004)