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Fear of plague in quake-hit Qinghai

[ 2010-04-16 13:16]     字号 [] [] []  
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In the aftermath of the earthquake in Yushu, Qinghai province, health experts have sounded a warning of a possible outbreak of diseases, especially the fatal pneumonic plague.

Surveillance over the epidemic, which is passed on to humans by marmots, a type of ground squirrel indigenous to the region, has been strengthened to work out and implement effective measures to avert potential outbreaks.

"The Ministry of Health has asked all personnel involved in rescue work in the region to keep a close eye and report suspected cases of the plague as soon as they are detected," said Feng Zijian, director of the emergency response department of the Chinese Center for Disease Prevention and Control.

Pneumonic plague, once established in a human population, is particularly virulent because it can be spread from person to person via coughing. If left untreated, mortality can range from 50-90 percent, according to the World Health Organization.

In 2004, eight villagers in Qinghai died of the plague. Most of them were infected after killing or eating wild marmots, which live in the grasslands of Northwestern China, where people hunt them for meat.

Contact with household animals like dogs, which get infected by eating the marmot, can also lead to human infection, experts warned.

To prevent infection, people, including rescue workers in the affected areas, should avoid contact with dead animals, Feng suggested. But he maintained that there was no reason for panic.

Currently, marmots are in hibernation and are expected to wake up in late April or early May, which, to a great extent, lessens the possibility of the plague spreading to humans, he said.

But he also conceded marmots might wake up earlier due to the impact of the massive earthquake, making epidemic prevention and control efforts tougher.

The last plague outbreak in Yushu occurred in the 1980s, Feng said.

To avert other disease outbreaks, like diarrhea, that commonly occur after an earthquake, top health authorities have outlined an epidemic control and response plan, including safe water and food distribution methods.

lief workers, given the harsh natural conditions of the quake zone, experts said.

But "the top priority now is to pull out survivors from the rubble and save lives", Feng said.

A medical team organized by the Ministry of Health left Beijing for Yushu on Thursday morning.

Hundreds of medical workers from across the country were sent to Yushu with tons of relief materials.

About 20 ambulances are also being transported to the quake-hit region from Beijing.

By Thursday, more than 500 injured had been transferred by air and railway to designated hospitals in the cities of Xining, Lanzhou, and Chengdu, according to the ministry.


1. What is the health concern in Qinghai after the earthquake?

2. How does the pneumonic plague spread?

3. What can people do to avoid infection?


1. Health experts warn of a possible outbreak of diseases, especially the fatal pneumonic plague.

2. It can be spread from person to person via coughing. Contact with household animals like dogs, which get infected by eating the marmot, can also lead to human infection.

3. People should avoid contact with dead animals.


(中国日报网英语点津 Helen 编辑)

Fear of plague in quake-hit Qinghai

About the broadcaster:

Fear of plague in quake-hit Qinghai

Nelly Min is an editor at China Daily with more than 10 years of experience as a newspaper editor and photographer. She has worked at major newspapers in the U.S., including the Los Angeles Times and the Detroit Free Press. She is fluent in Korean and has a 2-year-old son.