Flu epidemics sweeping across Eastern Europe have already killed more than 300, and in Russia and Ukraine nearly one in 10 are now sick, say authorities.
It is not entirely clear which viruses are to blame, but according to reports there seem to be three strains running concurrently throughout the region: a form of the H1N1 bird flu, swine flu and an aggressive novovirus stomach flu that is also affecting the whole of the northern hemisphere. However, Russian authorities have also blamed the Zika virus which is sweeping the western hemisphere and is transmitted by mosquito bites, although other experts have dismissed this virus as an unlikely candidate because of the cold climate in eastern Europe.
Schools in Moscow are closed and an epidemic has officially been declared in the city. Russians are appearing in public wearing face masks and traffic at the ubiquitious shopping malls is sharply down. The epidemic is expected to reach its peak later this week, the Russian Health Ministry said on February 4, TASS reports.
About 90% of Russia’s regions, which streach across 11 time zones, have been hit by the bug, according to the Russian consumer rights watchdog Rospotrebnadzor.
The authorities report that 120 Russians have died from flu-related complications and the number is expected to rise. Of Russia’s 85 regions (now including Crimea) 74 have already passed the official “epidemic” threshold in terms of cases per thousand population.
More than 9,000 schools and another 1,600 kindergartens have been shut because of the flu outbreak, says Rospotrebnadzor, or the half term break has simply been brought forward.
In Ukraine the situation is even worse, and the authorities have reported that 185 have died from flu since the outbreak began in September, including four children.
According to Ukraine’s Ministry of Health, the largest number of deaths were recorded in the Odesa region (34), followed by the Vinnytsia and Cherkasy regions, both with 13 deaths.
"The autopsies showed that all the dead had no vaccinations against influenza, " the ministry said in a statement.
In Ukraine more than 3.3mn cases of flu have been reported since the start of the outbreak, affecting 8.5% of the population, reports Radio Free Liberty’s Ukrainian service.
"In the fourth week of 2016 in 19 regions and in Kiev the incidence of influenza exceeded epidemic thresholds in 11 regions - more than 50%. In other regions the epidemic threshold is in the range of 4.0% in Donetsk to 42.1% in Ivano-Frankivsk regions," the Ukrainian Health Ministry said in a statement.
So far the rest of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) has escaped the worst. The bne IntelliNews bureau in Georgia reports there too schools have been closed.
Central Asia was unaffected but this week the first deaths were reported in Turkmenistan where 10 people are reported to have died from swine fever in January, according to the Turkmen Ministry of health, which adds the number of people infected with flu is on the rise, especially in the east of the country. Experts believe that the virus entered the country from Turkey or Russia, where there are at least two flights a day and there are no road or bus connections.
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