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Health officials: Parasitic diseases rising
By Liu Weifeng (China Daily)
Updated: 2005-05-17 06:55

The infection rate of food-borne parasitic diseases has climbed dramatically in the country in the past 10 years, health officials said yesterday.

The incidence of liver fluke, the leading food-borne parasitic worm, has increased by 75 per cent over the period, according to a survey conducted by the Ministry of Health throughout China's 31 provinces and autonomous regions from June 2001 to 2004.

It is estimated that more than 12 million Chinese have been infected with liver fluke through food, and have gone on to develop hepatic distomiasis, a liver disorder.

South China's Guangdong Province, the Guangxi Zhuang Autonomous Region and Northeast China's Jilin Province have the highest rates of hepatic distomiasis, recording 182, 164 and 630 per cent growth compared with a similar survey conducted from 1988 to 1990. Guangdong is home to almost half of the nation's hepatic distomiasis patients.

"Food-borne parasitic disease is a growing threat to public health and an outstanding issue for food safety," said Hao Yang, an official with the Disease Control and Prevention Division of the Ministry of Health.

The survey attributed the increasing incidence of liver fluke-caused disease to people's growing penchant for raw food.

More and more people have developed a taste for raw seafood, especially those living in coastal regions. For example, raw fish salad, a kind of sashimi, is a common food for people living on the coast.

Liver fluke found in seafood can cause severe distomiasis in human beings, said Xu Longqi, a researcher with the National Institute of Parasitic Disease under the Chinese Centre for Disease Control and Prevention.

Symptoms of the disease include diarrhea, malnutrition and hepatocirrhosis, he added.

Eating raw or semi-raw pork and beef can also trigger parasitic diseases, proved by the high infectious rate in Southwest China's Yunnan Province, where such food abounds.

Local residents in Dali and Simao in Yunnan, for example, enjoy eating raw pork, which provokes the diseases, said Xu.

However, land-borne parasitic diseases that infect human beings are well under control, said Hao.

On a national level, the infectious rate of this kind of parasitic disease is 63.65 per cent lower compared with the first survey.

In 1990 there were 536 million patients with verminosis. By the end of 2004, this figure had dropped to 136 million.

Hookworm, roundworm and whip worm, the most common land-borne parasitic diseases, are in sharp decline, said Xu.

"Rural hygiene campaigns have helped eliminate the worms, and lower the infection rate," said Hao.

He also called for vigilance against diseases passed to humans through pets, and suggested pregnant women stay away from domesticated animals.

(China Daily 05/17/2005 page3)

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