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Official: no TB epidemic on campus
(China Daily)
Updated: 2005-04-06 06:35

A key medical centre in the capital said fears of a tuberculosis epidemic at a university were groundless.

The Beijing Centre for Tuberculosis (TB) Prevention and Treatment said yesterday that worries of a serious outbreak at the China Agricultural University are unnecessary as only five students have the disease.

Another 72 students are infected with TB but are not sick - they do not have the disease itself - and are receiving preventative medicine to stop them developing it.

An Yansheng, head of the centre, confirmed five students have TB.

All are receiving treatment.

"We have tested 550 students and no more cases of the disease have been found," said An. "It is not an epidemic."

The Agricultural University had its first TB case on January 17 when a student in the Veterinary Department attended the campus clinic. He was diagnosed a week later.

According to the university website, five cases have been confirmed, three of them infectious. Three of the students were in the Veterinary Department, one in the Agriculture and Biological Techniques Department and the last from the Resources and Environment Department.

There have been many worries about the disease on campus. Students have left a lot of messages on the campus website expressing their fear of a TB outbreak and accusing the university of a cover up.

Students in other departments are scared to talk to the sick students, the Beijing News reported.

The university has hit back at the criticism. "We are not hiding anything," said Qian Xuejun, head of the publicity department.

"It should be the health authority, not the university, which says if there is really an epidemic or not. We believe the situation is not serious and we don't want to cause panic."

According to An, the university has been co-operating with local TB prevention and control departments. In the first group of 90 students who were examined, 72 were "strongly positive," which means they had the TB infection.

A second group of students had the TB test in late March. An said there were no cases found among them.

"But testing 'strongly positive' does not mean you have the disease. China has a high proportion of people who are TB-positive and the ratio in the university is normal," said An.

People who have the infection but not the disease do not feel ill, have no symptoms and cannot spread the disease. However, they may develop TB later, although taking a preventative medicine will stop this from happening.

Now it is not clear where the original infection came from. Health officials cannot confirm if the five students were all infected by the same person.

Although people are worried about the disease, campus life is carrying on as normal.

"I have heard a bit about it, but my work is not affected," said Gu Xiaohong, a teacher in the English Department.

"Most students in my department are not disturbed, and all classes are going on as usual," she added.

Liu Yuqing, head of the TB Prevention and Treatment Department in Haidian District, where the university is located, said 10 to 15 per cent of people who test positive for TB go on to develop the disease, especially when stressed or tired, when the immune system is weak.

Students who tested positive do not need to worry as long as they take care of themselves and take regular exercise, she said.

She said worries of the epidemic come from ignorance of TB. "A lot of people do not know what TB is and how it is transferred among people. Few know the difference between being positive and having the disease. We must work harder to inform people."

An, the head of Beijing's centre for TB prevention, said: "We are worried that media reports might bring negative attention to this incident, but we also know the media can help us educate people. We hope their reports can clarify the case."

(China Daily 04/06/2005 page3)

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