Tuesday, November 10, 2009

ukraine h1n1 registers on MSM radar

They had not heard of the H1N1 virus even a week ago. But they are pretty sure they understand it now.

"You catch it from imported food and clothing that isn't clean," said Mr. Barsadanyan, an 18-year-old first-year medical student who wears his close-cropped hair shaved into stripes along the sides.

He is not worried because he heard that the Ministry of Health has taken a somewhat unusual step. "They sprayed the city," he explained, "with the necessary products."
Globe-and-Mail | Ukraine has been awash with such misinformation about H1N1 for the last week, since Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko set off a public panic by shutting schools, banning public gatherings and warning that whole cities might have to be quarantined to prevent the spread of the disease. They were the most draconian measures taken by any country since the flu first appeared in Mexico last spring.

But it is still far from clear whether Ukraine is in the grips of a runaway H1N1 epidemic, as some officials have suggested, or whether the precautions were a confused overreaction to a predictable winter outbreak of seasonal flu.

The numbers coming from different government agencies and state media have been wildly contradictory.

Depending on the source, the number of reported cases of flu and respiratory illness last month ranged from under 7,000 all the way up to half a million, with no indication of how many people normally fall ill or die from the flu in the winter in this country of 40 million people.

The Ministry of Health has also issued conflicting information on the number of flu cases, flu-related deaths and suspected deaths due to the H1N1 virus. At one point, according to a state news agency report, a ministry official said flu deaths were down 10 per cent over last year.

An initial assessment from the World Health Organization - which sent a team of medical experts to Ukraine after a desperate plea for emergency aid from the country's President - was that the H1N1 virus could be confirmed as the cause of one of some 80 reported deaths from flu in the past two weeks.

The inconsistencies only increased public uncertainty about what was actually happening, and many Ukrainians appeared to have decided to prepare for the worst.