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Epidemic Prevention Still a Challenge in Quake-hit Zones

Officials in China's quake-hit Sichuan Province said on Tuesday they were facing huge pressure in preventing a major epidemic outbreak.

"Rising temperature and recent downpours have dissipated the disinfection and are likely to cause the contaminated areas to spread," said Li Jiawei, a disease prevention official who came from southwest China's Guizhou Province. He is helping with health work in Pengzhou City, one of the quake-hit areas.

"The chances of an acute skin or intestine disease outbreak are high in these circumstances."

The 8.0-magnitude earthquake on May 12 has left more than five million people displaced and worsened the hygiene of the population. The tremor also destroyed the sewage system of some cities and townships, and waste water has not been properly drained.

"Most of the corpses and bodies have been properly disposed of immediately after the quake, but disease prevention pressure is building up in the living population," Li said.

Some rescuers who have spent days working in Sichuan, have reported symptoms of diarrhea and tetter (skin disease), said Bai Baoyu, a doctor who came from the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region to the quake-hit Beichuan County.

"The health situation in cities and counties are better, but it was difficult for doctors to reach people living in outlying and rural villages," he added.

To cover all affected areas, Vice-Minister of Health Gao Qiang said on Sunday that medical workers should be sent to every township and village in the quake zone to strengthen epidemic prevention.

A Health Ministry official said in a news conference that there had been an increase in symptoms such as diarrhea and fever in tremor-affected areas, but no major epidemic or medical emergencies were found.

The ministry announced an emergency plan on Tuesday to inoculate the vulnerable population against epidemics such as hepatitis A and encephalitis B.

By mid-June, the ministry will also have in store 100,000 vaccines for the prevention of cholera, 20,000 for hydrophobia and 30,000 for measles, he added.

(Xinhua News Agency May 28, 2008)

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