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Protecting yourself from infectious diseases in China

According to official data revealed earlier this year, there were more than 6.9 million cases of infectious diseases reported in 2016. Of the total, infectious diseases killed over 18,000 people, with H7N9 bird flu, foot and mouth disease, infectious diarrhea, and influenza being the most prevalent causes of death. Most recent outbreaks registered in China are no more than a blip in the news, while others, like H7N9, continue to escalate fear among the whole nation as scientists speculate whether human-to-human transmission of the H7N9 virus is possible. Today, we look at how you can protect yourself from infectious diseases in China.

Infectious disease incidence rates

Following the SARS outbreak in 2003, the Chinese government recognized the need to rethink their “non-collaborative prevention and control approach” and improve the nation’s infectious disease surveillance. This led to the introduction of the web-based Nationwide Notifiable Infectious Diseases Reporting Information System (NIDRIS) in 2004, requiring under the Law of Prevention and Control of Infectious Disease in China that healthcare institutes across the country report 45 notifiable infectious diseases via the internet.

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The data collected from the NIDRIS enabled a trend study of nearly 55 million cases of notifiable infectious diseases in China to be analyzed by researchers from Zhejiang University in Hangzhou. Looking at the incidence and mortality trends of 45 infectious diseases in the post-SARS era (between 2003 to 2013), key findings from the study include the following:

The most common infectious diseases

66 percent of all cases reported between 2003 to 2013 were:

  • Hand, foot and mouth disease: A common illness in children that causes sores in the mouth, and rashes on the hands and feet.
  • Hepatitis B: A potentially life-threatening disease that infects the liver. It is spread through contact of an infected person’s blood and body fluids (e.g. via unprotected intercourse, sharing personal items like razors, etc.)
  • Tuberculosis: Compared with other infectious diseases, tuberculosis is the second biggest killer globally, and is an airborne disease that usually affects the lungs. Symptoms can include coughing (sometimes with blood), chills, fever, night sweats, etc.

The yearly incidence of the above diseases were 114.48 per 100,000 population, 81.57 per 100,000 population, and 80.33 per 100,000 population, respectively.

The fastest growing infectious diseases

The fastest growing diseases identified by the study include:

  • Hydatid: A parasitic infection caused by the eggs of a tapeworm called Echinococcus granulosus.
  • Hepatitis C: Primarily spread through blood-to-blood contact (e.g. from poorly sanitized medical equipment), Hepatitis C is a virus that primarily affects the liver.
  • Syphilis: A sexually transmitted disease that, if left untreated, can cause severe long-term health complications like arthritis, brain damage, and blindness.
  • HIV: Primarily spread through unprotected intercourse, HIV is the virus that causes AIDS.

The above diseases were found to increase at an average rate of 24%, 19.2%, 16.3%, and 16.3% per year between 2004 to 2013, respectively.

The rising threat of infectious disease

Researchers from the study identified that certain factors have contributed to the rising threat of infectious disease in China, including increasing antimicrobial (i.e. antibiotics, antimalarials) resistance, changing demographics and behaviours, as well as increased travel. For instance, more and more people in China are moving from rural areas to cities in search of better work opportunities. This rise in mobility is believed to have a large role to play in promoting the transmission of diseases from rural to urban areas.

Protecting yourself and your family

Some infectious diseases can be severe and even life-threatening, so it is important to maintain healthy habits so that you can protect yourself from disease and prevent it from spreading. Here are a few key tips to consider:

Wash your hands often

Handwashing is one of the easiest and most effective ways to protect yourself from infection. Always wash your hands thoroughly with soap before eating food, after using the toilet, after contact with a sick person, and after coughing or sneezing. For those times when soap and water is not available, use hand sanitizer instead.

Avoid touching wild animals

Wild animals sometimes carry diseases that can be transmitted between animals and humans, such as avian flu and rabies, so try to avoid touching them. If you are bitten, it’s best to seek medical attention straight away.

Don’t share personal items

Sharing personal items like toothbrushes, razors, earrings, and nail clippers are an instant no-no. Infections can be passed along toothbrush bristles, viruses can be left behind on razor blades, earrings can carry viruses from the previous wearer, and all sorts of fungus, bacteria, and viruses can be exchanged from nail cutting tools.

Keep up-to-date with all vaccinations

Vaccines can help prevent many infectious diseases, and have helped control a number of diseases that were once common around the world (e.g. polio). According to the WHO, vaccines prevented at least 10 million deaths between 2010 and 2015. To learn more about vaccinations, visit our article on vaccinations and health insurance here.

Having the right health insurance plan

Having the right health insurance plan will ensure that, should you require medical treatment from contracting an infectious disease, you can access the best healthcare facilities in the country without worrying about your medical bills. While in most cases a vast number of infectious diseases will be covered provided that it’s not a pre-existing condition, there may be several stipulations in your policy concerning such diseases. For instance, some plans (usually the cheaper ones) may exclude coverage of epidemic diseases (like the Zika virus). Sexually transmitted diseases are also often listed as an exclusion in plans.

As such, it often pays to speak to an experienced insurance broker like Pacific Prime China, who will be able to sift through the hundreds and thousands of health insurance plans on the market to find the best fitting policy for your specific needs. To learn more about your options, or to get a free quote, contact us today.

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