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China Floods Spreading Disease

September 10, 1998

BEIJING (AP) _ Outbreaks of snail fever and other diseases have been reported in the vast flood zone along the Yangtze River, a Chinese Red Cross official said today.

More than 9,000 medical teams are dispensing water purification tablets and treatment for people who have had contact with polluted flood water and risk getting snail fever, or schistosomiasis, said Sun Baiqiu, vice president of the Red Cross Society of China.

Snail fever is an endemic disease in central China that is caused by water borne parasites carried by snails. Left untreated, it can cause liver, urinary, lung and nervous system disorders.

There have been 513 cases reported in Jingzhou, a county in Hubei province, the official China Daily newspaper reported today. Many snail fever control stations had been destroyed by the floods, and Jingzhou urgently required medicine and relief funds, it said.

Ms. Sun said snail fever and other diseases contracted from polluted water were basically under control.

In the far northeast, colds and pneumonia have been reported, but the main threat is the bitter winter just ahead, Ms. Sun said at a news conference.

The ground is expected to freeze before it dries out enough to allow rebuilding. In heavily flooded Heilongjiang province, winter temperatures drop to minus 22 degrees _ far too cold to survive in the tents that have served as temporary shelters, she said.

The heavy flooding in the northeast and in the Yangtze basin this summer has killed more than 3,000 people nationwide and left millions homeless, according to government statistics.

Arne Jacobsen, a representative of the Red Cross who has visited flooded areas, said the government and local Red Cross chapters basically were doing a good job of getting food and medicines to those in need.

``I think there is still a long way to go. The immediate threat from the water is being reduced now, but there are still some very difficult months ahead until people can get back to normal lives,″ he said.

Along the Yangtze, China’s longest river, the floods are the worst since 1954, when 30,000 people died, about 90 percent of them from contagious diseases after floodwaters receded. Floods in the northeast have been the worst on record.

Update hourly