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Ten die at banquet; rat toxin suspected
( 2003-10-23 10:13) (China Daily)

Ten people are dead from apparent rat poison added to their rice and 23 are still in intensive care in Lichuan of Central China's Hubei Province, according to the provincial health bureau.

On Monday, 33 people felt ill during a meal at Huapin Village resident Zhu Fabin's home after they attended Zhu's father's early afternoon funeral ceremony.

About 15 minutes after of the meal started, the village chief died on the spot.

Inconvenient transportation and communication at the remote village caused the incident only to become known to local government officials at 4 o'clock, two hours after the meal had begun.

Ten people died at the meal or on the way to hospitals in Lichuan, according to authorities.

The 23 survivors are receiving care in the hospitals in Lichuan, and four are in extremely critical condition.

The others are appear to have no life-threatening problems.

According to Xu Guangyuan, the deputy director of Lichuan Hospital of Chinese Traditional Medicine, most should be out of danger within four to 10 days. Complete recovery depends on how serious the toxins, thought to be "Dushuqiang" or tetramine, have damaged the individuals' nervous systems.

Investigators from the provincial health department suspect the poison was mixed in the rice the villagers ate.

Sadly, rat poisoning occurs all too often in China. The first half of 2003 witnessed 116 cases of food poisoning in China, with 83 people dead among 3,643 poisoned. A government survey shows that rat poison was the cause in 90.5 per cent of the food-poisoning cases.

A campaign against rat poison has been under way since July, with authorities confiscating and destroying a total of 23,300 kilograms of rat poison or "Dushuqiang" across the country.

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