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Fatal snail-borne disease surging in China.

BEIJING, Nov. 1 Kyodo

A snail-borne illness that can disable and kill humans is on the rise again in China after eradication in the 1950s, the World Health Organization said Tuesday.

The number of acute cases of schistosomiasis in China totaled 457 in the first nine months of this year, up 35 percent over the same period last year, the official Xinhua News Agency said last week. It has so far hit seven provinces.

In 2004, Xinhua said, 816 people contracted the disease, which is spread when cow manure or human feces leeches into water supplies and feeds snails that release parasites onto the skin of humans that fish, bathe or wash in still water.

When the parasites lay eggs, they block blood flow, causing liver, urinary, lung and nervous system disorders. People infected may catch a high fever, feel weakness in the limbs and severe stiffness of the joints, Xinhua said.

People may also get the disease, also known as snail fever, when young but not develop symptoms for another 10 to 20 years, said WHO Western Pacific region epidemiologist Jeff Gilbert.

China's first case occurred 100 years ago. It surged until the government under late Chairman Mao Zedong stamped it out in the 1950s by teaching farmers to use latrines and eradicating disease sources.

A senior health official said last week that the number of acute schistosomiasis patients had increased ''drastically'' in recent years, ''posing a threat to public health security,'' Xinhua reported.

''Inadequate control of infection sources, severe outbreaks, people's unawareness of the disease and lack of prevention measures in some regions are the major problems,'' the news agency said, quoting Deputy Health Minister Wang Longde at a symposium in the south central city of Changsha.

About 60 million Chinese people, mostly in the central Yangtze River area and the lakes of adjacent Hunan Province, are at risk, the WHO says. The disease affects Cambodia, Laos, the Philippines and sub-Saharan Africa, as well.

About 200 million people worldwide have caught it, 20 million with severe cases.

A drug called praziquantl can cure or treat the disease in its early stages.

Chinese farmers need to renew their awareness of how to handle fecal matter, Gilbert said.

Improving the health of China's largely impoverished rural population, many of whom lack money to pay medical bills, is part of China's 2006-2010 national five-year plan. China intends to eradicate acute schistosomiasis again in 2007.

''It has by no means increased to pre-1950s levels,'' Gilbert said. ''I'm glad to see something done about it. We're very happy to see initiatives taken.''

Next year, Vice Premier Wu Yi will lead a working meeting on prevention in Jiangxi Province, Xinhua said.
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Publication:Asian Economic News
Date:Nov 7, 2005
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