BEIJING (AP) -- A hospital in southwest China has opened a clinic for patients who are suffering symptoms related to smog, a doctor said Wednesday, highlighting how big a concern pollution has become for Chinese.
The dedicated clinic at the Chengdu No. 7 People's Hospital has already treated more than 100 patients since opening last week. One public health expert suggested hospitals may follow suit to cash in on China's notorious smog.
Wang Qixun, a doctor at the clinic, said it was set up because the hospital had seen the number of smog-related patients surge in the last year.
Since it opened Dec. 9, the clinic has treated on average a dozen patients a day, with the most common symptoms including coughs and sore or itching throats, as well as asthma and heart disease "triggered or worsened by smog," Wang said.
A large red banner that hung across the doors of the clinic's outpatient department read: "We should not fear smog. It's preventable and curable," according to a Tuesday photo on the China National Radio website.
The rising middle class in China has become increasingly fed up with air pollution that has accompanied the country's spectacular economic growth. The term PM2.5, which refers to tiny particles in the air that can penetrate deep into the lungs, has become a common part of the vocabulary.
Pan Xiaochuan, a professor at Peking University's School of Public Health, said he wasn't aware of any other smog clinics in China and suggested it may be a publicity stunt aimed at increasing the hospital's coffers.
"You can't really say a symptom such as a cough or sore throat is caused by PM2.5. Chances are the cold weather is the real cause," he said.
"There might be more hospitals following suit, because I think it's a way to increase hospitals' revenues," Pan said.
Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan province, which borders Tibet to the west, has relatively little industry and levels of air pollution that are considered low compared with Beijing and other northern Chinese cities, but high compared with European standards.
On Wednesday afternoon, the U.S. Consulate in Chengdu, which measures air quality, gave it an index reading of 160 — or "unhealthy" — based on a PM2.5 reading of 73 micrograms per cubic meter. A safe level under WHO guidelines is 25 micrograms per cubic meter.
The Chinese reading, which also takes into account other pollutants and has a different classification system, came out as "lightly polluted."
Associated Press news assistant Zhao Liang contributed to this report.