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Lung disease top killer in rural areas
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More than 1 million Chinese die every year from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and as many as 70 percent of them never even knew they had it, experts said yesterday at a press conference to mark tomorrow's World COPD Day.

COPD is the fourth leading cause of death in the world. However, in China's rural areas, it is the No 1 killer.

"About 1.28 million people die of the disease every year in China, or about 2.5 people every minute," Cai Boqiang, a professor working for the Beijing Xiehe Hospital, said at the conference.

He said the death rate from COPD is higher than coronary heart disease, which kills about 1 million Chinese people every year.

However, people pay less attention to COPD, he said.

Ran Chengxin, president of Guangzhou Medical College, said just 4.3 percent of the people taking part in a nationwide survey on pulmonary disease said they had had their lungs examined.

Of those diagnosed with COPD, only 6.5 percent had received an examination of their lungs, he said.

"Worse yet is that only 31.1 percent of COPD patients are actually diagnosed as having the disease. Most doctors fail to pinpoint the disease in its early stages," Ran said.

He said about one-third of patients do not have any symptoms, such as coughing.

Zhong Nanshan, a director of the Guangzhou Institute of Respiratory Diseases, said there are two major reasons the disease has reached epidemic proportions in China.

First, smoking is a leading cause of the disease, with 13.2 percent of smokers contracting COPD against 5.1 percent of non-smokers.

A second major factor is cooking fuel, he said.

Zhong said the rate of COPD among women in Shaoguan, an undeveloped city in Guangdong Province, is 7.1 percent, while the rate in Guangzhou is 3 percent.

He said about 90 percent of people in Shaoguan use biofuels to cook with, while coal gas or liquid natural gas are more often used in urban areas.

Burning biofuel creates much more toxic gas than other fuels, which is why the incidence of COPD is higher in rural areas, he said.

Cai said it costs hundreds of thousands of yuan to treat a COPD patient, but many patients are old or on a small income and cannot afford the medical expenses.

"Preventing and treating the disease in its early stages is the best way to control it," he said.

(China Daily November 13, 2007)

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