The Ministry of Health is stepping up efforts to guard against epidemic outbreaks in the quake-hit regions, said Mao Qun'an, its spokesman.
The move comes on the heels of detection of gas gangrene, a deadly bacterial infection that may require immediate amputation, in the disaster zone.
As of Sunday, several major facilities treating quake survivors reported 58 cases of the disease, said local health authorities.
Some 30 of them will need to be amputated.
The first five cases, all involving severely injured survivors, were detected on May 14 at Sichuan University's Huaxi Hospital, the biggest hospital in Chengdu. They are in stable condition now, the dean of the hospital, Shi Yingkang, told China Central Television.
An isolation ward has been set up to prevent the infection from spreading, he said, adding that all quake survivors will be screened for gas gangrene upon arrival at the hospital.
"So far there has not been any case of cross-infection among the patients at the hospital," he said.
Zeng Guang, a top epidemiologist with the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), told China Daily yesterday the infection would not affect the general public.
It usually strikes people with serious injuries such as open fractures, according to Zeng.
Isolation of those infected and frequent disinfection can cut cross-infection chances. It takes about five minutes to diagnose the disease by testing wound secretions.
Gas gangrene is a bacterial infection that produces gas within gangrenous tissues. The disease is usually treated through surgical procedures and, in some serious cases, amputation, said experts.
Left untreated, it leads to death within 12 hours, Zeng said.
He urged all hospitals receiving patients from quake-hit areas to set up isolation facilities and test all patients for the disease upon their arrival.
"Medication must be provided to suspected cases as soon as possible," he said.
Rescuers on the ground should not touch survivors' skin without protection and should follow closely the disinfection procedures, he added.
Alert should also be raised for other infections, including diarrhea, hepatitis A and cholera, he said.
"Mass infection of diarrhea was recorded in the aftermath of the 7.8-magnitude Tangshan earthquake in 1978," Zeng said.
To tighten epidemic surveillance, the Ministry of Health has ordered that public health emergencies, including epidemic outbreaks and mass food poisoning cases in the quake-hit regions, be reported every day.
The ministry will send some 3,500 specialists in epidemic prevention and sanitation inspection to the disaster zone in five days.
On Monday, a 320-member medical team specializing in hospital infection containment and ICU management was dispatched by the ministry to help in securing hospital hygiene in the affected areas.
Some 5.3 million leaflets containing tips on hygiene and disease prevention are on the way to rescue workers and survivors.
The leaflets provide detailed guidelines on epidemic surveillance, food and water safety, environmental hygiene, physiological intervention and proper disposal of victims, said ministry spokesman Mao.
(China Daily May 21, 2008)