China Combats Meningitis Outbreak

Health experts in Shanghai are testing to determine if a baby diagnosed by doctors as having meningitis actually died from the disease, a newspaper reported Friday.

The government, meanwhile, declared under control an outbreak of the disease that killed at least 16 people. Airlines and city governments, however, were announcing precautions against its spread among travelers during the upcoming Lunar New Year holidays.

Doctors said the five-month-old baby, who died on Wednesday after being admitted to a Shanghai hospital two days before, was killed by meningitis (search), the Hong Kong newspaper South China Morning Post reported.

Tests were required to see if the strain the baby had was the same as one that sickened 258 people, 62 of them in east China's Anhui province (search), the report said.

It said the baby's parents are migrant workers, suggesting it may have been brought to the city from elsewhere.

Officials at Shanghai's Center for Disease Control and other city government offices said they could not immediately comment on the report.

The official Xinhua News Agency said health officials in Shanghai (search) believed the likelihood of an outbreak in the city of more than 20 million people was low. More than 99 percent of local children are immunized for meningitis, and efforts to inoculate children from outside the city had been stepped up, it said.

Meningitis is an infection of the fluid in the spinal cord or around the brain, usually caused by a viral or bacterial infection. Symptoms include high fever, headaches, nausea and vomiting. It spreads through contact with an infected person's respiratory or throat secretions, but is not as contagious as a cold or flu.

In a separate report, Xinhua said by Wednesday there had been no new meningitis cases reported in several affected Anhui cities for more than a week. The outbreak there was "under control," the report said.

The state-run newspaper China Daily reported, however, that with hundreds of millions of Chinese traveling during the Lunar New Year, which begins Wednesday, domestic airlines were increasing ventilation for aircraft passenger cabins.

Aviation authorities also intend to try to prevent delays to help reduce crowding in airport passenger lounges, it cited the Civil Aviation Administration of China as saying.

The death rate from meningitis can be as high as 10 percent to 15 percent. Worldwide, about 171,000 people die of the disease each year, according to the World Health Organization (search).