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Shanghai Hepatitis Cases Up to 300,000 : 11 Deaths Reported in 2-Month Epidemic That ‘Shocked’ China

Times Staff Writer

About 300,000 people in Shanghai have become ill and 11 have died in a hepatitis epidemic that broke out two months ago, the newspaper China Daily reported Tuesday.

The number of new cases is about 800 a day, but this is less than at the peak of the epidemic, according to a Ministry of Public Health spokesman quoted by the English-language paper.

The epidemic has “shocked the country” and had a “considerable impact on daily life, ranging from improvement in personal hygiene to turning the Shanghainese into the most unwelcome guests,” the newspaper said.

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In addition to the Shanghai cases, by mid-March slightly more than 100,000 people had contracted the disease in Jiangsu and Zhejiang provinces, which lie north and south of Shanghai, the paper said.

Dai Zhicheng, the Ministry of Public Health spokesman, was quoted as saying that he has never heard of a more severe epidemic.

Shanghai officials have reported that industrial production in the city fell by about 17% in February, largely because of the large number of ailing workers.

Health officials have blamed the epidemic on clams from heavily polluted coastal waters that were sold in city markets in December and later proved to be contaminated with the hepatitis-A virus. About 90% of the first wave of patients had eaten the clams without cooking them thoroughly, officials said.

Hepatitis-A is an infectious liver inflammation spread by contaminated food and water. It causes flu-like symptoms such as fever, vomiting and fatigue. It is endemic in China and many other countries with poor sanitation but is seldom fatal.

Shanghai health officials, in moving against the disease, have emphasized personal hygiene, thorough cooking of food, use of clean utensils and restaurant sanitation.

But some Western observers believe that the shortcomings of Shanghai’s antiquated and overloaded sewer system must be largely responsible for the severity of the epidemic.

Some social effects of the epidemic, according to the China Daily report, “have been especially embittering to the Shanghainese,” primarily because many people in China assume that the disease is spread through casual contact.

The China Daily article related the story of a Shanghai man, Chen Yupeng, who took a 10-day business trip that became a nightmare.

A Pariah During Trip

“People did not want me to touch their desks or the articles on them,” Chen said. “They refused to give me a seat because they feared I would contaminate their chairs. And they were reluctant to take whatever I had to deliver, such as documents, from my hand.”

The newspaper also told of a group of visitors to Beijing who were denied access to the canteen of their host organization simply because they were from Shanghai.

Another group, the report said, arrived in Beijing for appointments with colleagues at a research institute and was told that the meetings had been canceled because of a temporary rule that no Shanghai visitors would be received.

Hepatitis-A cases in Beijing are running 14% below last year’s rate. Last year there were about 2,770 cases by the middle of March, according to the report.

Restaurants Deserted

Still, the report said, “the usually overcrowded restaurants in Beijing seem deserted as more people believe it safer to eat at home.”

Authorities have advised families to use extra chopsticks or spoons to serve food onto individual plates, rather than have people use their own chopsticks to help themselves directly from shared serving bowls, the newspaper said.

“Nowadays,” it said, “the old saying, ‘dirtiness brings no disease,’ which people used to speak in jest to those who seemed to be too careful about the food they ate, is seldom heard.”


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