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April 14, 2011

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Auditor's death sparks debate

AN entry-level auditor at the Shanghai office of PricewaterhouseCoopers has died of acute cerebral meningitis, igniting public discussion and media attention as some believe work fatigue contributed to the woman's death.

Pan Jie, 25, died on Sunday of acute cerebral meningitis, which is caused by a viral or bacterial infection. Symptoms include severe headache and fever.

Dr Wang Guisong, an expert in the neurosurgery department at Renji Hospital, said overwork can make people more vulnerable to infections.

"Based on her symptoms and her low white blood cell count, it's reasonable to conclude that overwork led to a weakened immune system, which makes her more vulnerable to infections," Wang said. "When an infection worsens over time, people can develop acute cerebral meningitis."

A PwC Shanghai official denied in an interview with a local TV station yesterday that Pan's death was caused by work fatigue.

The official said the firm has sent a team to console Pan's family and would offer assistance with funeral arrangements if necessary. The company will also hire psychologists to counsel employees grieving over Pan's death, the official said.

Despite PwC's denial, Pan's friends still believe overwork was partly to blame for her death.

Pan's classmate and friend, surnamed Yu, said Pan had told her before she died that she had been working up to 18 hours a day and about 120 hours a week. One of Pan's colleagues, a senior-level auditor at PwC, who asked not to be identified, told Shanghai Daily 100-hour work weeks were common in recent months as it was peak auditing season.

Friends described Pan as "perfect" with a charming, friendly personality.

They said Pan did well in school. She entered Shanghai Jiao Tong University at the age of 16 and completed two master's degrees. PwC hired Pan in September.

She worked hard and was looking forward to gaining experience at PwC, a multinational giant in the financial consulting industry, according to her friends.

Pan asked for sick leave on March 31 due to a cold. Doctors said she died of acute cerebral meningitis that developed from the flu virus.

Pan seemed to be aware something was wrong. On March 31, Pan wrote on her microblog: "Whenever there's a chance to take a break, a fever comes. My body, I am at a loss whether I should praise you for being understanding or just the opposite."

One of the most striking comments on her microblog was a post about the death of an auditor from KPMG, another global auditing firm, this year.

"I can accept overtime. I can also accept out-of-town business trips. But on learning a young worker died from fatigue at kp (KPMG), I feel something has broken my bottom line to endure," she wrote.

Feng Lijuan, chief HR analyst with, a headhunting firm, said office workers need to eat well and get adequate sleep.


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