Concerns over swine flu are sweeping countries from Ukraine to Afghanistan
as governments scramble to deal with reported outbreaks of the disease.
But it remains unclear how many of the reported flu cases are
swine flu rather than ordinary flu. The symptoms of both diseases
are easy to confuse and in many countries doctors still have only
limited experience diagnosing the new H1N1 strain.
Concerns in Ukraine have run particularly high amid a flu outbreak
there. News agencies report some 70 people have died from flu
infections, with western Lviv Province particularly hard hit.
The Health Ministry said today that the number of flu patients
in the country has risen to 450,000, although it has not been
determined how many of those people are suffering from swine flu.
Only two days ago, the ministry had said some 255,000 Ukrainians
had registered with public health authorities as suffering from
the flu, among them 83,000 children.
Urging its citizens not to panic, Ukraine closed the nation's
schools for three weeks to avoid the spread of flu and banned
large public gatherings.
The World Health Organization said on November 2 there was no
evidence that Ukraine had a bad outbreak of swine flu, but at
the government's request it has sent a health team there to help
the country cope.
RFE/RLs Ukraine Service director Irena Chalupa reports
from Kyiv that uncertainty over the extent of swine flu is heightened
by a lack of diagnostic tools in the country.
It's very, very confusing and extremely hard to get to
the bottom of all of this," Chalupa says. "For starters,
Ukraine doesn't have the diagnostic capacity to actually be able
to establish whether or not someone actually dies from swine flu,
so they have to send samples to the World Health Organization
in London, which then either confirms or says, 'No, this person
did not die of swine flu.'
"Last week one case was confirmed as having succumbed to
swine flu and now there is talk of 11 other [such] deaths."
Chalupa notes that every year Ukraine suffers an outbreak of
ordinary influenza and often some local quarantine measures are
taken to curb its spread.
But this year the concerns over swine flu have dramatically raised
the stakes in the annual health crisis. And adding to the worry
is fear that the countrys health system is ill-equipped
to deal with any massive outbreak of H1N1.
The same fears are shared by many other countries in the post-Soviet
In parts of Russia, local authorities have introduced a so-called
"mask regime" to prevent the spread of flu.
RFE/RL's Russian Service reports that in the Khabarovsk region
in Russia's Far East, all theater and cinema visitors are obliged
to wear surgical masks. So are workers at shop counters and public
The same regulation was introduced in Russia's Baikal region
Zabaikalye with a fine of 500 rubles ($17) for anyone
caught ignoring the rules.
The first death caused by the H1N1 virus was reported in Belarus
today. Officials say forensic tests confirmed the presence of
the virus in a
37-year-old woman from the city of Drahchyn, who died last week
after she returned from Ukraine.
In Turkmenistan, the government has said nothing officially about
a flu outbreak. But in the capital and the regions, individual
doctors are reporting cases of ordinary and swine flu with widely
varying numbers of incidents and fatalities. The official silence
is heightening public fears.
In the Balkans, some countries report numerous swine flu infections,
others almost none.
Serbia, with 169 confirmed cases and two fatalities, has extended
the autumn school vacation in hopes of curbing the spread of the
This morning [November 3], I made the decision after consultation
with epidemiologists and the Ministry of Health," Serbian
Minister of Education Zarko Obradovic said on November 3, "to
extend the autumn break in schools so that the kids do not come
back to school before next Wednesday [November 11] because the
incubation time of the virus lasts five to seven days.
"So the best thing is to keep kids at home so that we stop
Of the confirmed cases in Serbia, the last 35 have been among
Demand for gauze masks have soared among popular belief that
they can help prevent infection. One factory, in Gornji Milanovac,
is making some 60,000 masks a day by working around-the-clock
and already has advance orders for all its production through
the end of this year.
However, in neighboring Montenegro, the government has reported
no cases of swine flu. Opposition members have asked the parliament
to open a debate to determine whether this reflects the reality
of the health situation in the country.
In Bosnia, two to three cases of swine flu have been reported.
Iranian Schools Closed
Much farther east, Irans health officials are also warning
the public of the need for additional precautions amid reports
of a worsening flu situation.
The Mehr news agency quotes Majlis Health Commission spokesman
Mohammadreza Rezaei Kuchi as saying that 3,000 Iranian citizens
have been infected with the H1N1 flu across the country. He said
28 have died of the disease.
Some 70 schools in Tehran and many other schools around the country
have closed as a health measure.
Afghanistan has declared a nationwide public health emergency
and closed all education institutes for three weeks.
Afghanistans Health Minister Said Mohammad Amin Fatami
says there have been 700 confirmed cases, with 273 of those among
foreign soldiers stationed in the country. Eight Afghans have
reportedly died so far.
Fatami says Afghanistan has a laboratory in Kabul equipped to
diagnose H1N1 infections and counts on this to help check the
spread of the disease.
"We have all the advanced technology and lab equipment to
diagnose and isolate and identify the H1N1 influenza virus,"
he said. "And we are grateful to the U.S. government for
providing us this support.
The Afghan Health Ministry has launched a public awareness campaign
since the first case of H1N1 was detected in July.
The campaign of leaflets and television and radio advertisements
emphasizes the need for people to wash their hands several times
a day as the simplest and most effective thing they can do to
help stop the spread of any flu virus.
RFE/RL's Russian Service; Irena Chalupa and Maryana Drach of
RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service; Gordana Knezevic of RFE/RL's Balkan
Service; and Zarif Nazar of RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan contributed
to this report.
Dr. Ott's interview with
Alexander S. Jones: Speculations
Surrounding Ukraine Plague
any reports or comments regarding the flu pandemic in your