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November 7, 2011

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Humidifier germicide watched

SHANGHAI authorities are keeping a close eye on an imported humidifier germicide from South Korea after it appeared to be the chief culprit of an unknown lung disease that killed 18 people in South Korea early this year.

The Shanghai Industrial and Commercial Administrative Bureau said yesterday that it will take action to prevent problematic products from local markets once a casual relationship between humidifier germicides and lung diseases is confirmed.

Local residents are also warned not to buy humidifier germicide imported from South Korea from online shops, said Zhang Yusong, a bureau official.

The unknown lung disease has caused a panic in South Korea, and the government organized a medical crew to look into the cause of the deadly disease. In August, an investigation involving 18 individuals who had contracted lung disease of unknown cause since 2004 and 121 other respiratory disease sufferers showed that those who had used humidifier germicides were 47.3 times more likely to contract the mysterious lung disease.

Following the investigation, the South Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention performed made tests in late September to discover the relationship between the disease and the germicide. They divided 80 laboratory mice into four groups. Three groups inhaled a different type of humidifier germicide for six hours a day, five days a week, and the fourth was a control group.

Last Friday, South Korea's Ministry of Health and Welfare and the center announced that autopsies of laboratory mice that inhaled the germicide had the same unexplained lung illness as found in eight of the people who died, including a pregnant woman, in April and May.

The South Korean government then issued a strong warning against the sale and use of humidifier germicides to the public and retailers in the country, just as the dry season was around the corner. But since August, the chemical had been quickly removed from shelves anyway, after it was suspected to be the cause of the disease. No trace of humidifier germicides can now be seen on the South Korean market.

The center said it plans to issue a final statement about its test results this week.

In Shanghai, Dr Bai Chunxue, director of Zhongshan Hospital's respiration department, advised local residents not to use humidifiers frequently.

"Vulnerable groups who take in harmful chemicals will easily be affected and lead to lung diseases," said Bai.


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