BEIJING - A senior health official has dismissed media reports that thousands of people on the mainland have a mysterious infectious condition that has been dubbed "negative AIDS".
The earlier reports said sufferers display AIDS-like symptoms, including swollen lymph glands and bleeding under the skin, but repeatedly test negative for HIV.
"We have not found a new virus and they are most likely just suffering from a mental health problem called AIDS phobia," said Hao Yang, deputy director of the disease prevention and control bureau under the Ministry of Health.
Hao told China Daily on Wednesday that epidemiological studies have been identifying people with AIDS phobia for the past 10 years.
According to Hao, the ministry has been aware of at least 100 people with such symptoms since 2009 across the country. He said the members of the group had been in contact with each other via a website.
The members firmly believed they had an HIV-like virus or an AIDS-like condition that cannot be detected with current testing technology and had asked the health authorities for further investigation.
"During our investigations, many were reluctant to fully cooperate and refused to introduce us to family members," Hao said.
He noted that many of the people with the condition were engaging in high-risk behavior and had a strong fear of contracting AIDS/HIV.
"That, in truth, falls into the type of mental disorder called a neurosis, which causes problems including anxiety, depression and sleeping disorders," said Pang Yu, a clinical psychiatrist at Huilongguan Hospital in Beijing, which is a leading national mental health hospital.
Pang said the sufferers refused to work with psychiatrists because they insisted their mental health was normal.
Some physicians at designated AIDS/HIV screening and treatment establishments are trained in mental health issues, Hao explained, but there is no set procedure in place to refer people for psychiatric counseling.
In 2009, Pang participated in China's first government-initiated study of AIDS phobia, which involved experts in infectious diseases and mental health professionals.
A total of 59 sufferers were interviewed and examined, according to an online statement issued by Ministry of Health on late Wednesday.
"The conclusion was reached that there was no such thing as a new AIDS-like virus or so-called negative AIDS," said Zeng Guang, chief epidemiologist at the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention, who headed the study.
"It's just AIDS phobia," he said.
Hao said those who participated in the study refused to accept the findings and did not accept that they had AIDS phobia.
Wang Ning, deputy director of the National Center for AIDS and Sexually Transmitted Disease Control and Prevention, said clinical reports of such cases began on the mainland about 10 years ago.
"Mental health intervention work needs to be beefed up among the public and particularly within the AIDS/HIV prevention and control efforts," he said.