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Disease Death Toll Increases by 22%

China saw a 22-percent rise in deaths caused by infectious diseases last year, with a 45-percent increase in cases of HIV/AIDS, according to the annual epidemic report released by the Ministry of Health.

More than 4.7 million cases of infectious diseases were reported, up 2.95 percent compared with 2006, it said. The diseases led to the deaths of 13,037 people, 2,311 more than the previous year.

Cases of respiratory tract and blood-borne/sexually transmitted diseases rose by 3.55 and 6.96 percent, respectively, it said.

Scarlet fever and measles were the two respiratory tract infections to have registered the sharpest increase in the number of people infected.

The number of reported HIV/AIDS cases increased 45 percent from the previous year.

The ministry said last November that more than 700,000 people were living with the virus, an increase from an earlier estimate of 650,000 in late 2006.

Only 223,501 of them had been officially reported to have contracted the disease by the end of last year.

"The sharp increase in reported cases of HIV/AIDS doesn't mean the HIV/AIDS situation is getting worse," said Gao Qi, a project manager with the China HIV/AIDS Information Network. "The increase might be due to more screening tests."

According to the health administration, 44.7 percent of the newly contracted HIV/AIDS victims last year contracted the virus through heterosexual transmission, 12.2 percent through homosexual transmission, 42 percent through intravenous drug injection and 1.1 percent from mother-to-baby transmission.

China is now working on the country's first nationwide program in a bid to control the spread of AIDS among male homosexuals, according to the health ministry.

Studies are under way in several cities to collect information on gay men, such as their distribution and behavioral patterns, according to Wang Weizhen, deputy director of the HIV/AIDS prevention department under the ministry's disease control bureau.

The newly issued infectious disease report also showed a sharp rise of 24 percent in syphilis cases, and 2.46 percent of cholera cases.

(Shanghai Daily / Xinhua News Agency February 25, 2008)

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