Carriers of hepatitis B virus are now allowed to work at kindergartens and nurseries on the Chinese mainland, under new guidelines on health and hygiene at kindergartens.
The Ministry of Health issued the document on Tuesday, revising guidelines dating from 1985 that barred people with hepatitis B from working at kindergartens.
"The revision is a symbol of a rising public awareness of the blood-borne infectious disease," said Jia Jidong, who leads the liver research center at Beijing Friendship Hospital.
It could also help eliminate hepatitis-B-related social discrimination in a country with 93 million carriers, he said.
Hepatitis B, a viral infection that attacks the liver and can cause acute and chronic disease, is transmitted via contact with infected blood or other body fluids, not through casual contact, according to the World Health Organization.
A great majority of kindergarten children aged 6 and younger on the mainland are immune to the virus because since 2002 nearly all newborn have received free vaccinations protecting them.
"That also prompted health authorities to end the decades-old ban," Jia said.
A notice jointly issued in February 2010 by the ministries of health, education and human resources and social security clearly listed occupations closed to hepatitis B carriers: police special forces, civil aviation pilots and staff workers at blood collection centers.
Moreover, hospitals and physical examination facilities may not provide hepatitis B screening tests for the purpose of school and kindergarten enrollment and employment, said Wang Zhao, vice-president of the China Foundation for Hepatitis Prevention and Control.
However, some people expressed concerns when it comes to jobs dealing with children and food. Zhao Min, a business manager in Beijing, said that although her 3-year-old son has been vaccinated for hepatitis B, she still felt upset about the new rules.
"Children are vulnerable, and I would prefer that completely healthy teachers take care of them," she said.
Previously, many kindergartens turned away children with hepatitis B due to pressure from other parents, according to Wang.
"It's unfair for the sufferers to fall victim to public ignorance," she said.
Yang Lijing, head of curriculum design at Fortune Fountain Kindergarten, a private kindergarten in Beijing, told China Daily that so far the hepatitis B test was still a requirement in medical examinations for prospective staff members, adding that current employees are "100 per cent healthy."
Yang said she was aware of the new regulation and the kindergarten will follow the guidelines.
"But it may cause parents' concern about their children's health," she said.
"We will try to ease their concern by communication."
Other new requirements in the guideline include that people with mental disorders may not work at kindergartens.