Virus outbreak kills five in southern China

BEIJING: An unidentified virus that causes pneumonia has killed five people and left some 300 hospitalised in southern China while rumours of a surging death toll have prompted frightened residents to stock up on antibiotics, officials said yesterday. 

Health officials said the outbreak in a region of Guangdong province near Hong Kong had been brought under control. They said Health Ministry investigators sent from Beijing were trying to find the source of the disease. 

Three hundred people have been hospitalised – one-third of them doctors, nurses and other health workers, said an official of the provincial Disease Prevention and Control Centre. He said 59 of those had been treated and released. 

Officials wouldn't give details about who died or when.  

Rumours of hundreds of deaths prompted residents to clear store shelves of antibiotics and pay inflated prices for white vinegar to use as disinfectant, officials said. 

Hospitals have been given extra antibiotics, officials said. 

“The disease is under control. It's not as serious as the rumour said. The priority now is to figure out what caused it,'' said a doctor at the No. 1 Hospital of the Guangzhou Medical School in Guangzhou, the provincial capital. She wouldn't give her name. 

People in Hong Kong and the Chinese territory of Macau, which also borders Guangdong, also lined up Tuesday to buy vinegar.  

News reports said one Hong Kong shop limited buyers to six bottles each and doubled the price to HK$20 (RM9.88).  

Rumours that the disease had spread to the neighbouring island province of Hainan prompted similar panicked buying of antibiotics there, though no cases have been confirmed, the official China News Service reported. – AP 

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