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HIV/AIDS bigger threat than bio-weapons
By Zhang Feng (China Daily)
Updated: 2005-04-06 06:35

Emerging and re-emerging infectious diseases are the biggest biological threat to modern China, experts said yesterday.

Speaking to the China Daily from the International Workshop on Infectious Diseases and Bio-safety which opened in Beijing yesterday, deputy director of the Institute of Microbiology and Epidemiology under the academy of of Military Medical Sciences of China, Cao Wuchun said natural diseases were more dangerous than any man-made threat.

"Although we must keep alert and make consistent preparations against the intentional use of bioweapons and bioterrorism, the naturally occuring outbreaks of infectious diseases are still the biggest enemy," he said.

Currently, China is developing technologies and equipment to resist possible bioattacks Cao said.

Innovations such as devices which warn of biological agents, are vital for national defence and also for large public events like the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games, Cao added.

However, China is also facing new challenges from emerging infectious diseases, such as the influenza pandemic, HIV/AIDS, SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome), viral hepatitis and even Ebola, said Wang Yu, director of the Chinese Centre for Disease Control and Prevention.

Addressing the Beijing workshop, Wang said that since 1973, about 40 new pathogens, half of which are caused by viruses, have been discovered.

Although SARS has been absent for nearly one year, it is still too early to conclude that the SARS virus has been eradicated, said Zhong Nanshan, director of Guangzhou Institute of Respiratory Diseases.

SARS killed almost 800 people, mostly in Hong Kong and the Chinese mainland, in a worldwide outbreak that infected more than 8,000 by the end of 2003.

Among the emerging infectious diseases, the hepatitis B virus infects 120 million people, including 30 million patients in China.

And re-emerging infectious diseases are posing an increasing threat to people's health, Wang said.

For example, China now has 820,000 patients suffering from the parasitic blood condition schistosomiasis and a further 40 million people are at risk of contracting the disease.

The country also sees 1.3 million new tuberculosis cases each year, Wang added.

According to Cao, biological threats can also come from the accidental leakage of pathogens from laboratories.

A SARS case in 2004 was found to have come from a laboratory in Beijing.

Since 2003, the Chinese Govern-ment has strengthened procedures at various levels to safeguard public health and protect against biothreats, Cao said.

(China Daily 04/06/2005 page2)

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