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70 diners sick after eating raw snails

By Guan Xiaofeng in Beijing and Qiu Quanlin in Guangzhou (China Daily)
Updated: 2006-08-22 06:16
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Seventy people in Beijing have been diagnosed as suffering from Guangzhou Angiostrongylus meningitis, the Beijing Bureau of Health said at a press conference yesterday.

70 diners sick after eating raw snails
A patient suffering from meningtis after eating snails recevies treatment at a hospital in Beijing, August 20, 2006. [Beijing Star Daily]

The bureau said the meningitis outbreak had caused no deaths so far and three patients had left hospital after treatment.

But the bureau warned people not to eat raw or half-cooked snails and gave a phone number, 65066969, for the public to report anyone improperly cooked snails.

Guo Zixia, an official with the Beijing municipal office of health inspection, said it would impose administrative punishment on Shuguo Yanyi Restaurant for improperly cooking the Amazonian snails, which caused the outbreak.

The office on Sunday issued an urgent notice prohibiting the sale of raw or half-cooked freshwater snails in the city's restaurants.

The office also required restaurants to boil snails thoroughly before serving them to customers.

It then inspected about 2,000 restaurants, although it did not find any selling raw or half-cooked snails.

Yin Quanxi, an official with the office, was quoted by the Beijing Daily Messenger as saying thoroughly boiled snails were safe to eat.

Yin said the office would improve the inspection of aquatic products, such as snails, fish, shrimps and crabs, by establishing a system of traceable purchases and sales so that food sources could be quickly identified.

The Beijing Friendship Hospital, specializing in treating the disease, yesterday launched a training course on the treatment of Guangzhou angiostrongylus meningitis.

The course will train about 200 doctors working in the city's third-class and second-class hospitals.

The friendship hospital found the first case of meningitis on June 24 when a 34-year-old man suffered from violent headache and nausea after eating a dish of cold snail meat at the Shuguo Yanyi Restaurant.

The snail meat was from the Amazonian snail fushouluo in Chinese which hosts the Angiostrongylus cantonesis, a parasite that harms people's nervous system.

Yin Chenghong, an expert from the hospital, said people do not have to panic as the disease is curable and will not result in major problems if treated timely and properly.

Yin said the disease has an average latency period of 10 days, during which time people can suffer from headache, fever, vomiting and a stiff neck.

Meanwhile, there have been no reports of illness related to Amazonian snails so far in Guangzhou, capital of South China's Guangdong Province, the local disease control and prevention office said yesterday.

"The city saw disease cases related to the snail in the 1980s, but has not heard of any cases for more than a decade," said Mao Xinwu, director of the food and health department of Guangzhou Centre for Disease Control and Prevention.

However, the city's health authorities have decided to launch a one-week inspection campaign of freshwater seafood to raise awareness about snail diseases.

Guangzhou was one of the first Chinese cities to introduce Amazonian snails in the 1980s, as a delicacy.

"Sales of Amazonian snails have been affected in recent days," said Guo Qinghong, a vendor at the Guangzhou Huangsha Seafood Market. "It is because people are now afraid of diseases."

"Once we prove eating salad snails could harm health, we will issue an emergency notice to the public not to eat them," said Huang Hui, an official with the Guangzhou Health Bureau.

According to Huang, trade of Amazonian snails has not been suspended in the city.

(China Daily 08/22/2006 page3)