AIDS needle attack scare spreads to Beijing

BEIJING, Jan. 31 Kyodo

An AIDS scare that has caused mass hysteria in the city of Tianjin has now spread to the capital, where police have vowed to investigate citizens’ fears of being pricked indiscriminately by infected needles.

Since the scare broke out in Tianjin after Christmas, an undetermined number of worried residents have gone to hospitals for blood tests after complaining of being pricked secretly by people with needles.

Beijing public security officials said they were investigating a number of indiscriminate needle pricking cases, but insisted that in the capital ”the overall security situation is stable and good.”

Five people checked into Beijing’s Tongren Hospital on Thursday morning to check their blood after saying they thought they had been pricked secretly by needles, said a hospital staff member.

Many other people have checked into the hospital for blood checks because of similar concerns, said the staff member, who would not provide further details.

Neither Beijing nor Tianjin authorities have publicly acknowledged any cases where people pricked with needles have later been found to have contracted HIV/AIDS.

In Tianjin, however, panic has reached such levels that many residents have been avoiding public places such as supermarkets and buses for fear of being pricked indiscriminately, said residents of the port city near Beijing.

Tianjin restaurant owners and shopkeepers told Kyodo News that the usually busy season before the Chinese New Year has been exceptionally quiet this year.

A report on the scare appearing in the Nanfang Zhoumo newspaper quoted a visitor to Tianjin from eastern Shandong Province as saying, ”If I look at the pedestrians here, it doesn’t look like a big city. It looks like my old county town.”

Tianjin police have apprehended a number of people for using needles to threaten or prick people, said the report last Thursday.

A man named An apprehended on Jan. 12 for acting indecently toward a high school girl and pricking her with a needle was sentenced to one year of labor reform, said the report.

In another case, two men named Tao and Han were picked up on Jan. 16 after entering the house of a woman and robbing her by threatening her with a needle full of red ink, it said.

While police said that none of the needle attacks involved the actual use of AIDS-infected blood, this has not stopped rumors flying.

”A patient who was infected with AIDS during a blood transfusion has been attacking young women and children to take revenge on society,” said a Tianjin shopkeeper who did not want to be named.

There is a propensity in societies like China where information, including the media, is tightly controlled for people to rely on rumors, said Jean-Pierre Cabestan, director of the French Center for Research on Contemporary China.

”Incidents such as this put pressure on the authorities to keep the public more informed about what is going on,” he said.

The number of HIV-positive cases in China is currently estimated at more than 600,000, although international health agencies suggest it could be twice that number.

There are fears the country could have up to 10 million HIV/AIDS cases within the next decade.

COPYRIGHT 2002 Kyodo News International, Inc.

COPYRIGHT 2008 Gale, Cengage Learning

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