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Ukraine In Panic Over Swine Flu
As WHO Team Analyzes Cases


Ukraine is in a panic about swine flu, with officials closing schools, imposing travel restrictions and limiting public gatherings. Yet many suspect that politics, not health issues, are behind the uproar.

The World Health Organization said Monday there is no evidence that Ukraine's outbreak is particularly severe, leading some political analysts to say Ukraine's politicians are using the swine flu scare to earn political points ahead of the country's presidential election in January.

The health minister, Vasyl Knyazevich, warned on Friday that nationwide quarantines could be imposed as the virus is spreading "extremely fast."

On Monday, his ministry said 67 people have died of flu, but it did not specify how many of deaths were related to swine flu. In any case, that is a tiny number in a country like Ukraine, which has a population of 40 million.

Worldwide, outbreaks of the regular seasonal flu claim 50,000 lives each year.

At the government's request, the World Health Organization has sent a team to help Ukraine deal with the outbreak.

"But this is not an indication that the situation is severe," said WHO spokeswoman Liuba Negru. "The information we have gotten (from the government), we have to double-check it and make sure it is real evidence-based information."

On October 28th, 2009, the Ministry of Health of the Ukraine informed WHO, through its Country Office in Ukraine, about an unusually high level of activity of acute respiratory illness in the western part of the country, associated with an increased number of hospital admissions and fatalities.

On October 30th, 2009, the Ministry of Health of the Ukraine announced the confirmation of pandemic (H1N1) 2009 virus infection by RT-PCR in eleven out of 30 samples obtained from patients presenting with acute respiratory illness in two of the most affected regions. Tests were performed in two laboratories in Kyiv, including the National Influenza Centre. Confirmatory tests will be performed at one of the WHO Collaborating Centres for Influenza.

Over 2,300 individuals have been admitted to hospital, including over 1,100 children. One hundred and thirty one (131) cases have required intensive care, including 32 children. As of 31 October 2009, a total of 38 fatalities associated with severe manifestations of Acute Respiratory Illness (ARI) have been registered. Preliminary epidemiological data analysis indicates that severe cases and deaths primarily occur among previously healthy young adults aged 20 – 50 years. Fatal and severe cases are reported to have sought medical attention 5 to 7 days after onset of symptoms.

International experience of the (H1N1) 2009 pandemic to date, especially from the Southern Hemisphere, has shown that poor clinical outcomes are associated with delays in seeking health care and limited access to supportive care. In addition, this virus has also shown its ability to cause rapidly progressive overwhelming lung disease which is very difficult to treat.

Public health measures recommended by the Ministry of Health of the Ukraine across the entire country include: social distancing (school closures and cancellation of mass gatherings); enhancement of surveillance activities; increased respiratory hygiene; and continuation of the vaccination campaign against seasonal influenza targeting at risk groups.

The Government of the Ukraine has activated coordination mechanisms to respond to the rapidly evolving situation, including the harmonization of response plans across all administrative levels.

In response to the request from the Minister of Health of the Ukraine, WHO is deploying a multi-disciplinary team of experts to assist national authorities in mitigating the impact of the pandemic. The team comprises of the following expertise: health emergencies coordination, case management, epidemiology, laboratory diagnostics, logistics, and media/risk communications.

As per WHO's communication in May 2009, there is no rationale for travel restrictions because such measures will not prevent the spread of the disease.

Travellers can protect themselves and others by following simple recommendations aimed at preventing the spread of infection such as attention to respiratory hygiene. Individuals who are ill should delay travel plans and returning travellers who fall ill should seek appropriate medical care. These recommendations are prudent measures which can limit the spread of many communicable diseases and not only the pandemic (H1N1) 2009 virus.


Reference Sources 102, www.who.int
November 3, 2009

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