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Govt on alert for major epidemics
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The government is using all means to guard against major epidemic outbreaks at areas hit by the earthquake on Monday in Sichuan province, Vice-Minister of Health Gao Qiang said yesterday.

No outbreaks have been detected in the areas, he said at a press conference on relief and rescue operations.

"The disease surveillance system has been substantially stepped up," Gao said.

The central government has also allocated 430 million yuan (US$61 million) for disaster relief and rescue efforts.

Nearly 10,000 medical workers are operating in the disaster areas, Gao said, with more being mobilized from across the nation.

"To save those trapped from the quake remains a top priority currently," he said.

The government will "never give up" rescuing people still buried in the ruins, he said.

For areas inaccessible by road, medical relief personnel are getting there by foot, he said.

"About 90 helicopters are also in place to help transfer medical workers for rescue work," Gao said.

A major challenge in the aftermath of the quake is the prevention of epidemics, experts have said.

Gao said the authorities are boosting efforts to prevent huge epidemics from breaking out.

"We have made careful plans and sent a large group of epidemic control and prevention experts to the quake-hit areas for the task," Gao said.

First, food and water safety need to be ensured to prevent food borne infections, Gao said.

Second, disinfection and sterilization work targeted at certain kinds of viruses and bacteria will be intensified.

Third, people in the affected regions will be vaccinated against infectious diseases.

Proper and sanitary disposal of quake victims' bodies will also have to be ensured, Gao said.

Intestinal and respiratory infections, and pest-borne diseases such as malaria and dengue fever, which usually flourish in warm weather, are major concerns, said Feng Zijian, director of the emergency response department of the Chinese Center for Disease Prevention and Control.

The large number of corpses could pose a considerable health risk if not handled appropriately and quickly, Feng said.

He recommended that bodies be sealed in special bags, stored far away from shelter areas for survivors, and buried as soon as possible.

After identification procedures, the bodies are disposed of in mass burials, an official surnamed Huang with the Sichuan Health Department told China Daily yesterday.

With such measures and the work of medical teams on the ground, Gao said the authorities were confident of preventing outbreaks.

China has techniques and mechanisms to prevent outbreaks after disasters, he said.

"No epidemics occurred after the deadly Tangshan earthquake in 1976," he said.

Gao also expressed deep appreciation for foreign countries willing to help.

Mental health professionals on the rescue team will help quake survivors with psychological intervention, Gao said.

(China Daily May 16, 2008)

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