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'Shocking' number of students TB-positive
(China Daily)
Updated: 2005-01-28 09:03

An unprecedented large-scale survey has found nearly 9 per cent of students under the age of 14 in primary and middle schools in Harbin tested positive for tuberculosis (TB), reports the city's Municipal Health Bureau.

Conducted by the Harbin Centre for Tuberculosis Prevention and Control, the three-month-long survey covered nearly 400,000 school children.

The TB test involved a tuberculin forearm skin test.

And results were divided into negative, positive and highly positive.

It was the largest TB survey carried out in the Heilongjiang provincial capital since the founding of New China and included almost every child within the selected age group, said Jiang Zhifu, an official with the Harbin Municipal Education Bureau, which helped organize the survey.

Among them, 34,765 children tested highly positive, or nearly 9 per cent.

"The number of the heavily infected is a bit shocking," Wang Chunhui, the centre's senior physician told China Daily.

"Although those children who tested highly positive are different from TB patients, tubercle bacillus in their bodies are like bombs without timers and they could develop TB at anytime when their immunity declines," he explained.

Those who tested positive are in the best category as they have an immunity to TB, while those testing negative have no immunity and ought to be immunized in the future.

The number of those who tested negative is rather small, said Wang.

Those who tested negative have been advised to get vaccinated as soon as possible, albeit on a voluntary basis, he said.

Children whose test came back highly positive have been X-rayed to gain a better insight into their condition. The X-rays revealed more than 100 children have already begun to show symptoms of TB, he added.

A patient with active TB can spread the airborne disease to 10 to 20 healthy people in a year through proximity to their breath.

"If left unchecked, the number of infected will go on increasing in the future," Wang warned.

But, he rejected that a breakout of TB is likely in Harbin, rather that the number is no more than the average nationwide.

Currently there are about 4.5 million TB infected people in China, of whom one-third are highly contagious, according to a report by Xinhua News Agency.

The number ranks the country second in the world, behind India.

Chinese babies are usually given the BCG vaccine for the prevention of TB within 24 hours of birth.

"Unlike some infectious diseases, TB does not create as much fear, and early detection and proper treatment may cure it easily," Wang said.

Free medicine and preventive treatment are being provided for those children who need it.

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