Nineteen junior high school students have been told to leave school after they were found to be carriers of the Hepatitis-B virus.
The move has caused controversy among those who say the ban goes against the youngsters' rights.
The pupils were told to go home in the city of Urumqi in the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region.
"I am in a desperate situation now; no school is willing to accept me with a drop-out paper in my hand," one student called Xiaoxiao told the Beijing News on Monday.
The 13-year-old boy was in the first grade of junior high at Urumqi No 15 Middle School six weeks ago. The school told him to return to his village three weeks later because he "carried the Hepatitis-B virus."
Mao Qun'an, a spokesman for the Ministry of Health, blasted the decision to ban the pupils.
"This is prejudice. All these students can go to school unless they are sick enough to be hospitalized."
The Hepatitis-B virus, like the HIV virus, is mainly transmitted through sexual contact and blood.
It cannot be spread through food or water, sharing eating utensils, breastfeeding, hugging, kissing, coughing, sneezing or by casual contact.
China is believed to have more than 120 million Hepatitis-B virus carriers.
Most people who become infected get rid of the virus within 6 months, but it can cause cirrhosis (scarring) of the liver, liver cancer, liver failure, and even death. Not everyone who tests positive goes on to develop any symptoms, although they could still be spreading the disease.
"All the seven students we sent away are Hepatitis-B virus carriers in a contagious period," Sun Xiaomei, an administrative official from the No 67 Middle School told China Daily yesterday.
"We made the decision when considering a safe environment for our other 900-plus students, including 400 that board," Sun continued.
Yin Xiuqin, from the No 15 Middle School, showed reporters a paper released in March by the Urumqi education department. It said students can be told to leave school if they have "chronically contagious diseases in a spreading period, all kinds of epidemic diseases in acute conditions and abnormal liver functions."
"We are doing things according to the rules," Yin said.
An official with the Urumqi Education Bureau who was reluctant to give his name told local media on Monday: "We have proved their cases may cause an epidemic after DNA tests. We had to tell them to leave school."
Zhang Yuexin, a senior expert from the Xinjiang Liver Disease Centre, disagreed, telling the Nanfang Daily: "There is nothing wrong with their liver functions. Viruses are duplicating inside their bodies, but do not show they are in an acute period."
"What the schools have done is not legal. Even if the students are Hepatitis-B virus carriers, they still have the right to a normal school life," a local lawyer named Zhang Yuanxin told China Daily.
China has launched a nationwide campaign calling on people not to take a biased attitude towards people carrying the Hepatitis-B virus, said Mao from the Ministry of Health.
The number of Hepatitis-B patients has become a major public health issue, sources from the ministry said.
(China Daily 10/11/2006 page3)